Cedar Unveils Iowa Casino Project Despite 2-Year Moratorium

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A week after Iowa lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on new casino licenses, the Cedar Rapids Development Group unveiled plans for their casino project.

The state lawmakers voted House File 2497 for a two-year moratorium on new casino licenses, capping the state-issued licenses at the current number of 19. The new legislation takes effect on June 1, 2022, pending the governor’s signature.

The cap would expire on June 30, 2024.

The casino moratorium bill, which now awaits Gov. Kim Reynold’s approval, surprised many, including the Cedar Rapids Development Group, which plans to build a $250 million casino resort on the west side of the Cedar River.

What’s the Rationale Behind the Casino Moratorium?

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver tried to explain the legislative decision to freeze new gaming facilities in Iowa.

During an interview with a local TV station earlier this week, Whitver said there is “gaming fatigue within the Capitol,” which pushed lawmakers to quickly pass a temporary moratorium on new casino licenses last week.

“People just said, “We need a pause and see how this shakes out over the next couple of years,” the Republican lawmaker explained. He added that a lot of changes took place over the last few years in Hawkeye State’s gaming laws. He said that there had been changes that would affect Iowa.

Whitver said the Iowans don’t believe they need another casino right now.

There are 19 state-licensed casinos currently operating in Iowa. The moratorium on new licenses will remain effective until July 2024 if the governor signs the bill into law.

Iowa Sports Betting Also One of the Reasons

Besides the “gaming fatigue,” Whitver also cited legal sports betting in Iowa as a factor. The Hawkeye State passed sports betting bill in 2019. The Senate majority leader said the residents are already fed up with the unending sports betting advertisements.

“Especially after the sports betting bill that passed, there are so many ads, so much talk about gaming,” the lawmaker said, believing it led people to say they just need to put a pause on that.

In addition to seeking a halt to new casinos, Iowa lawmakers tabled a request from sports betting operators to offer odds on esports.

Meanwhile, Cedar Casino Unveiled

While the casino moratorium in Iowa lands at the governor’s desk, the Linn County Gaming Association, Cedar Rapids Development Group, and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment unveiled the project details for Cedar Crossing over the weekend.

The $250-casino plan is slated to cover the old Cooper’s Mill site alone, the Cedar River. The previous plan was to build the casino at 1 st Ave and 1 st Street NW.

The new mega plan calls for a casino with bars, restaurants, a “food entertainment” venue, and a 1,500-seat event center.

The casino will include between 800 and 1,100 gaming machines and up to 60 table games.

Besides Mayor O’Donnel, Lin County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ben Rogers also backs Cedar Crossing and its developers. Rogers said they backed the team and its commitment for the last decade to bring the casino facility to Linn Country. “We will maintain our commitment to supporting them in the future,” he said.

In addition, the supporters pledged to commit 8% of revenue – nearly $5 to $7 million per year – in funding toward local nonprofits.

New Law Still Allows Exceptions

If Reynolds signs the casino moratorium bill, the law will allow for a few exceptions during the 24-month period. The law provides three exceptions that would still allow the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to act on licensing requests.

The IRGC would be empowered to approve a casino’s request to relocate to a new site, though the location must remain within the same county.

The commission would also be authorized to approve new gaming rights for an entity seeking an active license from another firm, so long as the casino being acquired remains stagnant.

However, if a licensed casino entity concedes its concession, the commission would be able to a competitive bidding process for a new company to take ownership of the closed property.

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