Proposed Cedar Rapids Casino Will Have to Wait for 2-Year Moratorium on New Casino Licenses to End

No casino is coming to Cedar Rapids for at least 2 years now, after the Governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, signed into law a measure that places a moratorium on new casino licenses in the state.

The provision, which came as an amendment to a larger piece of gambling legislation, means that local regulatory bodies are not allowed to issue any new casino licenses in Iowa until June 2024. The moratorium basically means that the project for the establishment of the proposed 160,000-square-foot cultural, arts, and entertainment complex at the location in close proximity to downtown Cedar Rapids will remain on hold for the time being.

Earlier in 2022, the Iowa Legislature gave the green light to the 2-year moratorium on new casino licenses in the state, after essentially taking action on an issue that has usually been considered by Iowa’s Racing and Gaming Commission. The moratorium was included in House File 2497, a larger piece of legislation targeting gambling regulations in the state, late in the 2022 legislative session under the sponsorship of Republican Senator Roby Smith.

Tiffany O’Donnell, Mayor of Cedar Rapids, has reportedly spoken with Governor Raynolds and she understands that signing the proposed piece of legislation into law was a disappointing decision for both the mayor and the city. Ms. O’Donnell further noted that she was greatly disappointed and reassured the Governor that the city of Cedar Rapids would be expecting the moratorium to be lifted in 2 years.

Cedar Rapids’ Third Try to Establish a Casino Jeopardized by Recently Signed Gambling Bill

Cedar Rapids’ Mayor noted that it would be up to local lawmakers to decide whether or not to extend the aforementioned moratorium beyond the 2-year deadline ending in June 2024. As she noted, the city needs to make sure that the state authorities are aware of the great positive effects that the casino establishment would have on the second-biggest city in Iowa.

The new piece of gambling legislation has seriously jeopardized the third attempt of Cedar Rapids to establish a casino venue. In 2014 and 2017, the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission rejected a gaming license for Linn County, as both times studies have shown that the establishment of such a facility would prey upon revenues from other casinos, particularly the Washington County-based Riverside Casino and Gold Course.

At the time when Iowa lawmakers passed the moratorium in May 2022, the president of Cedar Rapids’ preferred casino operator Peninsula Pacific Entertainment – Jonathan Swain – said that the investors in the project believe that the outcome will be positive, despite the delay. Jeff Pomeranz, city manager, also confirmed the developer remains committed to bringing the proposed casino project forward to state regulators as soon as the moratorium comes to an end.

The moratorium on new casino licenses was supported by the Iowa Gaming Association – the body that represents the 19 state-licensed casinos in Iowa – as confirmed by Wes Ehrecke, the group’s president and CEO.

The moratorium, however, seems to put Governor Raynolds in conflict with the 5-member regulatory body that is appointed by her to control the local gambling sector. Earlier in June, the members of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission shared their disappointment with the moratorium, with some of them noting that politics should be kept out of casino licensing decisions in the state.