December 17, 2013

Citing what they believe will be a boost to regional economic development and revenue advantages for the state, the Carroll County Board of Supervisors Monday voted to sign a letter of support for a planned $40 million Wild Rose casino-and-entertainment complex in Jefferson.

The measure to send the endorsement to the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission passed on a vote of 4 to 1 with Supervisor Neil Bock, a Carroll Republican, in opposition.

"Tourism will pick up, local commerce will improve, and tax revenues will spike," the four supporting supervisors say in the letter. "More importantly, however, Wild Rose plans to partner with the local community to improve the lives of gamers and non-gamers alike through their generous charitable contributions."

Wild Rose Entertainment and its nonprofit Greene County partner announced last Tuesday an agreement that would boost a planned Jefferson casino's charitable contributions, making an estimated $300,000 available each year for public and charitable projects in neighboring six counties.

The West Des Moines-based gaming operator already had committed to contributing 4 percent of its gambling profits - an estimated $1.2 million annually - to Grow Greene County Gaming Corp. for public-minded endeavors within Greene County and among its cities.

The casino expects adjusted gaming revenues of $30 million.

Supervisor Gene Meiners, a Templeton Democrat, said he viewed the casino in the context of regional development.

"I think we need to be proactive in supporting our neighbors that have good things happening to them," Meiners said.

Meiners and Supervisor Marty Danzer, a rural Carroll County Democrat, have met with Greene County officials about the regional prospects for the casino.

For his part, Bock said the presence of a casino in Jefferson would pull shoppers and restaurant-goers and other commercial activity in a "big shift of money out" of Carroll County.

"The bottom line is Carroll County will not win by betting on a casino," Bock said. "I think Greene County will."

Supervisors Chairman Mark Beardmore, a Carroll Republican, offered a libertarian argument as basis for his support, saying state-regulated gaming amounted to "voluntary taxation." He didn't want to stand in the way of a venture that would bring in state revenues with no tax hike.

"I'm great with (gamblers) paying (state revenues)," Beardmore said, because people have a choice whether or not to gamble in casinos anywhere in Iowa.

Last week, the Greene County nonprofit and Wild Rose also announced the finalization of a cooperative agreement for development of a casino-and-entertainment complex expected to be constructed on the northwest corner of the U.S. Highway 30 and Iowa Highway 4 intersection in Jefferson.

An application for a gaming license is due Jan. 6 with the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission, which is expected to vote on the plan in April or May. The Carroll County Supervisors' letter, as well as one of support from the Carroll Area Development Corporation, will be included in Greene County's package of advocacy materials for the casino.

This past August, Greene County voters passed a gaming referendum with 75 percent "yes" votes - the highest margin of victory for a casino-introduction referendum in the history of Iowa. Votes to renew licenses for long-time casinos around Iowa have been higher.

The gaming commission will set a Jefferson site visit and public hearing before the final vote.

Reached this morning, Greene County Supervisor Guy Richardson, a Jefferson Republican, said he was pleased with the Carroll County Board of Supervisors vote.

"We're glad to have them on board as partners," Richardson said. "The more regionalism, the better."