Gaming chair: Casino could spark Dubuque-like turnaround
By DOUGLAS BURNS
BURLINGTON — The chairman of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission says an expectation for rural regional development in Greene County and its neighbors weighed heavily in his tie-breaking vote Thursday to approve a gaming license for a Jefferson casino-and-entertainment complex.
With the rest of the commission split 2-2, Lamberti ended a nail-biting commission session at the Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington with a favorable nod to the $40 million complex West Des Moines-based Wild Rose Entertainment expects to open on the north side of Jefferson by August 2015.
Lamberti, an Ankeny attorney and former Republican state lawmaker, referenced a map of Iowa’s existing 18 state-regulated casinos revealing a large swath of west-central Iowa not served by a legal gaming operation.
“Some of them referred to it as the doughnut hole,” Lamberti said. “It’s not just a county. It’s the region. So that had an impact.”
Representatives from Carroll, Calhoun, Guthrie, Boone, Dallas and Adair counties spoke at public hearings in support of the Jefferson casino.
In an interview with The Jefferson Herald and independent journalist Chuck Offenburger, a Greene County resident, Lamberti said he sees Wild Rose serving as an economic catalyst for a region with the potential for a commercial and entertainment anchoring effect similar to the one Dubuque experienced with the Diamond Jo casino and the boom of associated riverfront development in that eastern Iowa city over the past two decades.
“We all know where Dubuque was in the ’80s and look where Dubuque is today,” Lamberti said. “Look at downtown Davenport. Those are bigger areas, but relative to the size, I think the impact can be the same.”
Grow Greene County Gaming Corp., the nonprofit associated with Wild Rose, will distribute 5 percent of the casino’s adjusted gross receipts to charitable and public-works projects. Of the estimated $1.5 million annually flowing through the nonprofit, 20 percent will go to endeavors in Greene’s neighboring counties of Boone, Calhoun, Carroll, Dallas, Guthrie and Webster.
“You’ll see that economic impact,” Lamberti said. “You’ll see it showing up in ways that there will be funds available to do community projects that maybe weren’t there before, or at least on an accelerated pace. There’s certainly going to be jobs created.”
Wild Rose projects hiring 275 employees with an annual payroll-and-benefits package of $7 million.
“I do see an economic benefit of the casino in Greene County,” Lamberti said.
In his public remarks before the vote, Lamberti said the commission would make a public statement in July about the future of legalized gambling in Iowa and the prospect for other casinos.
“There’s no magic guidelines that tell us when we should issue a license and when we should deny,” Lamberti said. “And that makes it very difficult on us as individual commissioners.”
Lamberti said the Des Moines area needs to have rural Iowa succeed.
“We have lots of advantages in Polk County, and I think we have lots of advantages that are going to come in the future,” Lamberti said. “We’ve got significant population growth amongst all of our suburbs, and we’ve got some good things in the works that are pretty historic by Iowa standards, and quite frankly, we have advantages that a lot of other parts of the state don’t have.”
Lamberti added, “Being from Polk County, I do have an interest in making sure that the rural folks get part of this as well. So that does have an impact on my decision.”