‘We need you on this’

Casino advocates stress rural roots, regional economic development in pitch to regulators


ALTOONA — Dozens of Greene County economic-development advocates joined Wild Rose Entertainment Thursday in making the case to state regulators for a planned Jefferson casino-and-conference center.

Wild Rose and its associated non-profit, Grow Greene County Gaming Corp., used a video and speakers at an Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission meeting in Altoona to describe the $40 million, 325-job casino as a “game changer” for business and population growth in a wide swath of Iowa surrounding Jefferson

“I’ve never seen a community get together on any project like this,” said Kim Rueter, a Grand Junction farmer and businessman.

Wild Rose released new architectural drawings and information on the casino, which needs a nod from at least three of the five state commissioners to receive a license and go from concept to function.

“We need you on this one. This is a huge moment for us,” said Chuck Offenburger, an Iowa journalist and author from Cooper, located in southern Greene County.

Greene Countians, in a record margin for a vote in Iowa to introduce legalized gaming into a county, in August approved with 75 percent support a referendum allowing a casino. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission plans to hold a public hearing and site visit in Jefferson May 29. The expected commission decision on a license is June 12 during a regular meeting scheduled for Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington.

During the Thursday commission session at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino, Tom Timmons, president and chief operating officer for West Des Moines-based Wild Rose, said the Jefferson casino — planned on the northwest side of the U.S. 30-Highway 4 intersection — would need 325 people to fill 275 full-time positions with total annual salaries, wages and benefits of $7 million. Construction of the casino is expected to provide 150 additional jobs over the 12- to 13-month development.

The casino, which would feature a signature glass-fronted promenade, includes a $5.3 million, 71-room, three-story hotel that is being coordinated with Wisconsin-based Cobblestone Inn & Suites. A 1,000-person events center, sports bar and store selling Iowa products would be part of the complex.

Wild Rose is developing outlots on the property for potential sale to other businesses interested in the proximity to the casino.

Timmons cited four primary drivers for the casino: promotion of regional growth; economic viability; overwhelming community support; and strong regional support.

Sid Jones, president of Home State Bank in Jefferson, stressed that area counties would benefit from the casino, both in terms of economic-development spillover and direct charitable contributions.

“I look at this region and think we are kind of one community and we have different neighborhoods,” Jones said.

Kate Neese, co-owner of Neese Inc., in Grand Junction, said the casino would be part of a comprehensive approach to economic development, one rooted in agriculture and manufacturing. Jim Ober, vice president of Scranton Manufacturing, noted that his company plans to add 75 new jobs.

Added Timmons, “It’s as Iowa as you get, folks.”

Prior to the Jefferson presentation the gaming commission heard from two outside consultants who had studied some of the possible impact of the addition of gaming facilities to Iowa, which now has 18 state-regulated casinos and three run by sovereign Native American tribes.

Marquette Advisors, an international gaming consultant with an office in Minneapolis, Minn., estimates the proposed Wild Rose Casino-Jefferson would generate about $28 million in annual gaming revenue with an estimated 400,000 annual visitors (about $70 per visitor).

Of the projected $28 million in gaming revenue at the Greene County casino, Marquette estimates that about $6 million would be “new” revenue resulting from an increase in gaming activity. The rest of it would flow from other casinos in Iowa: $6 million from Prairie Meadows in Altoona; $4.5 million from Meskwaki, the Native American casino in Tama; $3.2 million from Wild Rose in Emmetsburg; and $8.3 million from other casinos.

“There’s no apparent under-served markets at this time,” Brent Wittenberg, vice president of Marquette Advisors, told the commission.

Wittenberg said the gaming industry is still recovering from the recession, that the “casual gamer hasn’t fully re-engaged.”

What’s more, he said, a new casino in Iowa likely would be an “under-performing” one economically.

With regard to the Greene County proposal, Wittenberg said an analysis of Iowa casino patron residential ZIP codes reveals that the a Jefferson casino would not draw people from the western suburbs of Des Moines. The primarily rural customer base would come from other areas around Jefferson, he said.

Las Vegas-based Union Gaming Analytics estimates gross gaming revenues of between $23 million and $45 million for the proposed Jefferson casino.

Like the other study, Union forecasts much of the Jefferson casino’s annual revenue would come from other gambling facilities in the state: between $10 million and $15 million from Prairie Meadows; between $3 million and $5 million from Emmetsburg; and from $3 million to $4 million from Meskwaki.

Timmons, saying Wild Rose was just beginning to review the consultants’ reports and would address more issues later, pointed out that Wild Rose’s own facility in Emmetsburg shows up as the one to be the most affected by the Jefferson casino.

Wild Rose clearly sees a market for casinos in both Jefferson and Emmetsburg and wouldn’t cannibalize its own business, he said.

“We’re not going to open up a casino that’s going to be a detriment to our own casino or any other,” Timmons said.

Jeff Lamberti, chairman of the Iowa Racing and Commission, said in an interview with The Daily Times Herald that Jefferson offered a “good presentation.”

“Obviously, there’s a lot of community support,” Lamberti said. “It’s a good project. Obviously it’s people we know with Wild Rose. They’re obviously good operators and they’ve got experience in Iowa.”

Lamberti, an Ankeny attorney, said commissioners would weigh the upcoming public hearings and site visit as well in making the final call on a Jefferson casino.

He said the consultants’ studies didn’t project a debilitating blow to any existing casinos in Iowa should one be licensed in Jefferson.

“There didn’t appear to be huge impact on any single, existing facility,” Lamberti said. “That, I think, is probably notable.”

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