Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation has its day

Presentation to IRGC on license for Wild Rose casino
Greene County and Jefferson were well represented at the Racing and Gaming Commission meeting March 6 in Altoona.
Greene County and Jefferson were well represented at the Racing and Gaming Commission meeting March 6 in Altoona.

The mood was one of excitement and anticipation Thursday morning as Grow Greene County Gaming Corporation made its presentation to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) in support of a gaming license for Wild Rose-Jefferson. About 80 persons from Greene County and Jefferson – most of them supporters of the project – attended the meeting at the Prairie Meadows conference center in Altoona. All five Greene County supervisors were there, as well as Jefferson mayor Craig Berry and council members Harry Ahrenholtz, Lisa Jaskey and Larry Teeples.

“I was very happy with how it went. I thought it was a great representation of our county and what the possibilities could be,” said Grow Greene County member Peg Raney Thursday evening.

IRGC chair Jeff Lamberti listens to market impact studies
IRGC chair Jeff Lamberti listens to market impact studies

Market studies first: The Grow Greene County presentation came after nearly an hour of summary of  two studies paid for by the IRGC of the Iowa gaming markets, specifically in Linn County (Cedar Rapids) and Greene County. Casino licenses are pending in both counties. “The addition of casinos in Iowa is likely to have significant cannibalization impact on existing Iowa casinos. Cannibalization would be the primary source of revenues,” said Lou Frillman of Marquette Advisors of Minneapolis.

Frillman concluded that existing casinos are well located, well built, well managed, and there is ongoing maintenance and freshening of the entertainment experience. “Going forward, from our analysis, the focus should be to continue to freshen and maintain the quality of facilities you have in Iowa and to support those facilities going forward.”

Rich Baldwin of Union Gaming Analytics of Las Vegas said his company came to the same conclusion. The Union Gaming study showed that almost all revenue of a Jefferson casino would be drawn from other casinos, with Wild Rose-Emmetsburg losing the most.

“Taking everything into consideration, at the present time we do not believe there are any  under-served counties in the state of Iowa. We believe the state’s interests are better served by the existing casinos re-investing in their current operations, keeping the assets current and competitive without the risk of additional hits in the gaming supply that will negatively impact their operations. We recommend the state of Iowa refrain from issuing additional casino licenses at this time,” Baldwin concluded.

National Problem Gambling Awareness: After the market study summaries was a presentation by Eric Pruess, program manager of the Iowa Gambling Treatment and Prevention Program. He gave statistics for the year and talked about March as National Problem Gambling Awareness Month. He explained that March was selected as Gambling Awareness Month because the NCAA’s “March Madness” has become one of the most popular gambling events of the year.

Pruess said 13.1 percent of Iowans are at risk for developing a gaming problem, and that 0.6 percent of Iowans, or about 18,000 persons, have a gaming disorder.

Peg Raney of Grow Greene County being interviewed for television
Peg Raney of Grow Greene County being interviewed for television by Kim St Onge of KCCI-TV 8.

Racing and Gaming Commission chairman Jeff Lamberti called for a 15 minute recess at that point. The mood lifted as Grow Greene County members and supporters, all wearing white and green corsages or boutonnieres, talked with each other. Raney, Grow Greene County member Brenda Muir, and Greene County Chamber and Development executive director Chris Henning were all interviewed by Des Moines television news reporters during the break.

Racing and Gaming Commission members have had the 326-page application as reading material since early January. Thursday’s presentation was considerably more entertaining.

Finally, the presentation: Five people spoke “live” during the presentation – Tom Timmons, president and CEO of Wild Rose Entertainment, Grow Greene County member Kate Neese of Grand Junction, two architects and the vice president of Brimark Hotels, which will own the companion Cobblestone Inn should the project be approved.

Wild Rose Entertainment president Tom Timmons (left) and Grow Greene County member Mike Mumma
Wild Rose Entertainment president Tom Timmons (left) and Grow Greene County member Mike Mumma

Their comments were interspersed with video recorded comments. “See their faces, hear their voices, and feel their collective enthusiasm that makes this project distinct and special. Quite frankly, if it weren’t for the people of Greene County, I wouldn’t be standing here today making this presentation,” Timmons said introducing the first bit of videotape.

The video featured a seed theme, with the seed being planted, sprouting, and finally growing to reach across the county and across the region. Rex Durlam on harmonica and Rick Morain provided music. Segments were taped primarily at Home State Bank, Greene Bean Coffee, RVP~1875, and 209 Main in Paton.

All together 25 persons, almost all Greene County residents, were featured on the video. Local speakers included Kim Rueter of Grand Junction, who first suggested the idea of a casino. He was the first to speak on the video. The video tells of the conversations that were held before the idea of a casino became public last April.

Also speaking on the video are Greene County residents Chuck Offenburger, Sid Jones, Guy Richardson, Norm Fandel, Bonnie Silbaugh, Benji and Gerald Deal, Peg Raney, Jamie and Cindi Daubendiek, Greene County sheriff Steve Haupert, Elaine Deluhery, Mary Jane Fields, Rick Morain, Jim Ober, Lori and Vaughn Bauer, Angie and Robby Pedersen, Don Orris, Doyle Carlson and Patrick Kirk. Chad Schreck of Stuart, executive director of Midwest Partnership, and Doug Burns of Carroll, co-owner of the Jefferson Bee and Herald, also spoke on the video.

Supporters talked of their reactions upon visiting Wild Rose-Emmetsburg and their comfort with having a similar facility in Jefferson.

Neese, in person, talked about the challenges rural areas with agriculture-based economies face,  and “home-grown” businesses in the county like AAI, Power Lift, Scranton Manufacturing, Bauer Built and RVP~1875. Later in the presentation, she talked about the need in the county for a place to hold family reunions, weddings, and large meetings.

The 75 percent voter approval in the Aug. 6 referendum was mentioned several times. Deluhery said she has been a poll worker for several elections, including the referendum. “We had a lot of new voters, even voters my age (Deluhery is a retired nurse), who had never voted before. I was impressed after the vote that such a high percentage was in favor of the casino,” Deluhery said.

“We had all the normal skepticism in Greene County that has greeted every gaming issue everywhere around the state. We had all of that here, but we talked all of this out with our friends and our neighbors and our spouses,” Offenburger said. “When it came time to vote, it was very clear to everybody what good sense this project made for us here, and that’s why we got the 75 percent vote, which is just amazing.”

Timmons responds to the studies: Timmons spent a few minutes addressing the market studies. He reminded the commission that a similar study in 2010 predicted the Grand Falls Casino in Lyon County would cannibalize Wild Rose- Emmetsburg. That didn’t happen, Timmons said, saying that business at the Emmetsburg casino is up 7 to 8 percent. “We’re not going to open a casino (in Greene County) that’s going to hurt us,” he said.

Timmons provided again the figures residents have heard previously: a $40 million investment, 275 fulltime equivalent jobs with $7 million in annual salaries and benefits; 150 construction jobs as the facility is built; and an event center that can accommodate  800-900 for a concert and 500-600 for a sit-down meal. The hotel will be a $5.3 million project with 71 rooms. He told of the 5.0 percent of adjusted gross gaming revenues that will be given to Grow Greene County Gaming Corp for charitable uses, with .9 percent of that going to neighboring and adjacent counties.

We want it here: The presentation ended with a video segment asking Racing and Gaming Commissioners for approval of the license. “The commission really should look favorably at the Greene County license for the simple reason that  one of the main charges to the commission is to see that when they do issue licenses, they’re good not only for the area of the facility where it will be located at, but also good for the state of Iowa,” said county supervisor Richardson.

“Greene County is not coming to you with a ‘Hail Mary,’ hoping that three out of the five of you will  catch it. What they’ve done is put together an economic development game plan. It’s for that reason they deserve approval of this casino,” Burns said.

“We as a community want this. Seventy-five percent said ‘yes.’ That’s a bigger turnout for voting than we have when we’re electing a president…The community spoke, and we want it here,” Silbaugh said.

Those at the meeting chuckled at Rueter’s comment near the end of the video. “People of Greene County really want this casino. I think if we don’t get this casino, there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people,” he said.

There was applause as the presentation ended, with most Greene County supporters standing. “Nicely done,” was the comment from IRGC chair Lamberti.

Thumbs up from Cedar Rapids: Backers of the proposed Cedar Crossing Casino in Cedar Rapids listened carefully to the Greene County presentation. A license application for Cedar Crossing is pending; the presentation has been made and the IRGC will announce a decision April 17.

According to Cedar Rapids television station KCRG-TV9’s  website, Steve Gray, the Cedar Rapids businessman who is heading up the investor group for Cedar Crossing, and Cedar Rapids mayor Ron Corbett both gave Grow Greene County “high marks” on the presentation. According to KCRG, Gray said Grow Greene County made a strong case of how casino development spurs growth in the community and in overall gaming revenue in Iowa. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” Gray was quoted as saying.

Doug Gross, a strategist for the Cedar Rapids investor group, waited out the long meeting for the public comment period. He called into question the market studies, saying he was “astounded and confounded” by the results. According to Gross, the conclusions were based on zip codes of gamblers who regularly use casinos and have special “player cards.” They account for only 60 percent of the customers. “That’s like tracking airline passengers who use Frequent Flyer miles to make conclusions about airline usage,” Gross said.

He added that the market studies are only one factor, and that the commissioners must consider other financial and cultural benefits to communities.

What’s next: The Racing and Gaming Commission will visit Greene County and Jefferson May 29, with a public meeting at the Sierra Community Theatre during the afternoon. A decision on the application will be announced June 12.

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