Racing and Gaming Commission meeting has drama, suspense


The drama of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission announcing a decision June 12 in Burlington on the application of Grow Greene County and Wild Rose Entertainment for a casino license will likely be remembered in Jefferson for many years to come. In the end, it was two farmers and an attorney who “bought in” to Grow Greene County’s vision for the future.

About 25 Greene County residents, most of them part of Grow Greene County, were at Catfish Bend Casino for the Commission’s meeting. The meeting was livestreamed via the internet. About 45 persons, all of them casino supporters, watched the livestream at the Sierra Community Theatre, while other residents watched on their own computers. Several persons posted the commissioners’ votes on social media as they were announced.

Commission chair Jeff Lamberti cast the last vote, breaking a 2-2 tie with his “yes” vote. “I knew we had it when Lamberti said…..” has been part of many conversations in Jefferson since then.

To read a transcript of the history-making 33 minutes in Burlington, click here: IRGC decision. (Editor’s note: Due to acoustics in the room, comments Dolores Mertz made about Highway 30 being the southern border of Minnesota were not clear enough on the recording to transcribe accurately. They have been omitted.)

Carl Heinrich
Carl Heinrich

The first commissioner to vote was Carl Heinrich of Council Bluffs. He is past president of Iowa Western Community College. He is a Republican. He voted “no,” citing casino market studies that projected a negative impact on existing casinos.

Dolores Mertz
Dolores Mertz

Dolores Mertz of Algona voted second. She is a farmer, a former legislator, and a Democrat. She was the only Commission member to vote in favor of a proposed Cedar Rapids casino earlier this year. She said that rural Iowa is missing something. “Sometimes, can’t rural Iowa have a little piece of the action?” she asked. Mertz voted “yes” and the vote was tied at 1-1.

Kristine Kramer
Kristine Kramer

Kristine Kramer of New Hampton cast the third vote, a “no.” She owns K & W Motors Ltd in New Hampton and is a Democrat. Her comments were brief as she explained that her vote was based on the market studies.

Richard Arnold
Richard Arnold

Commission member Richard Arnold tied the vote with his “yes” vote. He lives in Russell and is a farmer, a small business owner, and a Republican. He also made only brief comments, but said that he found the projected negative impact on existing casinos to be minimal. The vote was tied at 2-2.

Jeff Lamberti
Jeff Lamberti

As Lamberti, an attorney from Ankeny and a Republican, began speaking, the tension in the room was palpable. The end result of 14 months of work came down to the Lamberti’s vote, and nothing he had said in the weeks preceding the vote had given a strong indication of how he would vote.

Thursday, Lamberti spoke five minutes before saying that Des Moines and Polk County have advantages other parts of the state don’t have, and that “quite frankly, I think we’re going to be just fine.” He spoke another 70 seconds before announcing his “yes” vote. Casino supporters will remember that 70 seconds as seeming much longer. Lamberti’s vote was followed by 10 seconds of enthusiastic but controlled applause in Burlington.

“This is such a close call,” Lamberti said after the meeting adjourned. “There are impacts on Prairie Meadows. There is a gaming environment that’s not terribly strong, but you’ve got the economic benefits to the state and to that region of a license. You’ve got the historical basis that when it tends to be single digit impact to other facilities, it’s been granted. And so, weigh that along with what I think are good things going on in Polk County and I think that Prairie Meadows is going to be fine. It’s going to be able to rebound. And so it’s all of that taken together in making a decision.”

Grow Greene County members give the IRGC “thumbs up” after its decision to grant a casino license to Greene County. Pictured are (front, from left) Lori Mannel, Brenda Muir, Kate Neese, Mary Jane Fields, Rick Morain and Guy Richardson; and (back, from left) Mike Mumma, Peg Raney, Craig Marquardt and Bob Allen.

Lamberti said during the meeting and after the meeting that the Commission will make a statement at its July meeting about the possibility of any other new gaming licenses in the state. He said it is likely the Commission will call for a three to five year moratorium on any new applications.



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