State Senator received $23,000 from casino critic before introducing amendment blocking Linn County casino

Published: May. 24, 2022 at 8:11 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - According to data from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, State Senator Roby Smith (R-Davenport) received $23,000 from Elite Casino Resorts political action committee before he introduced the amendment blocking a Cedar Rapids casino for two years.

Elite Casino Resorts CEO Dan Kehl has continually criticized a potential casino in Cedar Rapids because it would make casinos less profitable in Waterloo, Meskwaki and the one it owns in Riverside. Elite’s other casino in Iowa is in the same district Sen. Smith represents in the statehouse.

Sen. Smith, who is running for his first statewide campaign in 2022 for Treasurer against Michael Fitzgerald (D), didn’t respond to any email or phone call from our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team. Elite PAC is Sen. Smith’s seventh-largest donor, according to data from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

According to the data, only the campaigns for Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny), Former Speaker of the Hosue Linda Upmeyer (R-Hancock), Speaker of the House Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford), and Rep. Bobby Kaufman (R-Wilton) have received more money from Elite PAC than Sen. Smith. The group has given money to candidates from the Democratic Party as well.

Sen. Smith has received more than $20,000 from other gaming industry advocacy groups. But, our team didn’t compare those numbers to other lawmakers.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell said she heard about the amendment after a text message from State Senator Liz Mathis (D-Linn). She said knows the gaming industry contributes to many political candidates and wants to know how those donations played into lawmakers’ minds when voting for the bill.

Rep. Dennis Bush (R-Cherokee) said he wasn’t thinking about a Cedar Rapids casino at all when he voted for the pause. He said he believes the commission needs more time to make a decision on adding another casino because of the amount of money used to market sports apps.

“There are just all these different apps and advertising. How is that going to affect the existing casinos and their revenues?” Bush said.

Mayor O’Donnell said she doesn’t understand lawmakers’ rationale for the pause on issuing new licenses in 2022 rather than when mobile sports gambling was first allowed in 2019. She said she believes lawmakers in Des Moines changed the rules.

“It’s hard to not feel played as a city, it really is,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve been playing by the rules just like we’ve done in the past. But in the eleventh hour, there seemingly may have been a frontroom, backroom, or I don’t know where [deal]. This came out of nowhere.”

She said she’s been communicating with Governor Reynolds and asked her to not sign the bill, which includes allowing people to bet on individual awards for players, establishing cashless gambling in casinos, and eliminating a licensing requirement for non-gaming employees.

A spokesperson for Gov. Reynolds hasn’t responded to an email about her plans regarding a possible line veto, total veto or signing of the bill as it’s written.

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