The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission today voted to deny the application of Steve Gray's group to open a casino on 1st Avenue West in Cedar Rapids. The proposal had been given decisive approval in a referendum last year.
I have mixed feelings about this. I didn't like the location, straddling 1st Avenue between downtown and the Taylor Area. I didn't like the large and splashy building, which didn't blend with its surroundings and which would have been difficult to convert to any other use should the casino fail. I didn't like the plans to duplicate the restaurants and entertainment venues which already exist downtown. And the economic benefits of the casino were probably oversold. (Not to deny there would be some, but one commenter on Facebook today compared the adverse effects of the negative decision to those of the 2008 flood.)
At the same time, I am morally outraged [DISCLAIMER: shameless attempt at drama] at the commission's decision process. While I could only have approved had the commission used any or all of the above rationales in making their decision, they did not. The Gray group's application was rejected because studies show the Cedar Rapids casino would have drawn away ("cannibalized") customers from casinos in Riverside and Tama. Well, maybe it would have--Gray and Cedar Rapids city officials dispute those findings--but WHAT BUSINESS IS THAT OF THE STATE? Sorry, I'm yelling, but do businesses in any other line get this level of protection from competition? Restaurants don't. Colleges don't. Convenience stores don't. What is so special about casinos that they get this protection?
Now there's a big vacant area on the west side of the river. What happens now? I'm nobody's visionary, and certainly no entrepreneur, but I hope that whatever it is:
(a) is something. A gaping hole west of downtown is not good.
(b) serves to connect the Taylor Area to downtown.
(c) is not gargantuan. It should fit into and contribute to a quality place.
(d) creates economic opportunities for working class people.
(e) is flood-proof.
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