One thing was apparent at the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission hearing today in Johnston, Iowa: opening a casino is not the same as opening a downtown fabric store. This was clear as the Commission listened to hundreds of individuals voice their opinions in 3 minute sound bites over 4.5 hours. Opinions both for and against four additional proposed Iowa casinos was expressed based on personal perceptions, values, philosophies and goals of what is “right”. But perhaps most revealing was the type of questions the Commission asked as they peeled away at more layers of the proposals in an attempt to better understand how casino developers propose to uphold the integrity of gaming in Iowa:
- Integrity of investors: the most dominant line of questioning involved identification of investors so that criminal background checks can be completed to ward against corruption seeping into the Iowa Gaming market and contaminating the industry. Tama County’s casino developer spent a significant amount of time answering questions and promising additional information on specifically the equity investors.
- Respect for the local community: perhaps most unlike a traditional private company, casino developers have a responsibility to communicate openly, honestly and completely with the community from whom casino developers and equity investors look to “game” money. It was pointed out that intentionally keeping the public in the dark on application information hinders building trust and accountability for informed decision-making. Specifically looking out for Tama County’s interests, Commissioners requested additional detailed info in writing on how much money the local nonprofit partner, county and cities would receive so it can be compared to other casino developer’s offerings.
- Accountability in connecting responsibly into local economy: also, unlike a private company, casino developers were repeatedly asked how they have thus far not only engaged the civic community, but their commercial and peer tourism industry stakeholders to maximize the positive economic impact and mitigate the negative impact. Specifically in Tama County, developers were asked about steps taken to engage in a cooperative relationship with the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel.
- Viability of the business model: in-depth questions were posed on the health of financing structure and the shovel readiness of the plans. Specifically in Tama County the casino developer was asked why the casino is small when professional consulting companies had recommended a significantly bigger casino that could augment Tama County’s ability to be a destination attraction to draw dollars into Tama County from beyond its borders.
- Respecting the surrounding environment: a number of questions pertained to optimizing efficiency, safety, as well as recognizing and celebrating the natural beauty of the site. Specifically for Tama County, one Commissioner observed that in her opinion the Skala property is one of the most beautiful sites in Iowa. At the site visit, the Tama County public also requested more details on how this beauty of the rolling hills is being recognized in the construction and layout of the site.
The Commission’s decision on allocation of gaming licence(s) is expected to be made Thursday, May 13, 2010.
The Commission also repeatedly framed their questions around the expectation that the community would have another opportunity to voice their opinion in a local election November 2010.