Iowa Casino Moratorium to Lift, Clear Way for Cedar Rapids Resort

Posted on: April 22, 2024, 02:53h. 

Last updated on: April 22, 2024, 02:53h.

New casinos could soon come to Iowa after state senators opted not to extend a moratorium that had pumped the brakes on the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) issuing new gaming licenses.

Iowa Cedar Rapids casino moratorium
A rendering of the long-proposed Cedar Crossing casino in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The $250 million development has been resurrected after Iowa lawmakers opted not to extend a moratorium on new gaming licenses. (Image: Peninsula Pacific Entertainment)

The Iowa Legislature adjourned its 2024 session over the weekend without extending the casino moratorium it initiated two years ago. House lawmakers voted 76-16 in favor of extending the gaming freeze another five years through June 2029, but the Senate didn’t go along with the plan.

The Senate adjourned early Saturday morning without voting on the casino moratorium extension. As a result, the halt will expire effective July 1 at 12:01 a.m. local time.

State Rep. Sami Scheetz (D-Cedar Rapids) celebrated the news. He was among the House minority who voted against the prolongment. Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second most populated city, has for years been pursuing a state gaming concession to no avail.

I am thrilled that the proposed extension of the casino moratorium did not advance in the Iowa Legislature. This outcome is a significant victory for Cedar Rapids, as we will now have the opportunity to make our case to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission,” Scheetz said.

“Our community has waited patiently for the chance to enhance our economic landscape, and we are ready to present a compelling argument for why Cedar Rapids deserves this opportunity for growth and revitalization,” Scheetz continued. 

Cedar Rapids Casino

A group of approximately 80 local businesspeople involved in an entity called Cedar Rapids Development Group (CRDG) has been pursuing a casino development for over a decade. The IRGC in 2014 and 2017 rejected the group’s applications for a gaming resort, with state gaming regulators primarily voicing market saturation concerns in rendering their decisions.

After Nebraska voters authorized commercial gambling through a statewide ballot referendum allowing the Cornhusker State’s horse racetracks to become casinos, Iowa lawmakers signed off on the two-year moratorium. The statute was designed to protect Iowa’s current casino industry, which numbers 19 licensed casinos.

CRDG has the political backing of the Cedar Rapids government and its mayor Tiffany O’Donnell. The city passed a statute that lends the local government’s support for a casino built by CRDG through early October 2029.

Site Ready

In anticipation of the moratorium being lifted this summer, the Cedar Rapids City Council last July set aside about 25 acres of city-owned land for CRDG.

The property is located just north of Interstate 380 west of the Cedar River between F and I avenues and 1st and 5th streets NW. CRDG and its preferred gaming partner, Los Angeles-based Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, paid Cedar Rapids $165,000 last summer for the exclusive rights to purchase the property anytime until Jan. 1, 2026. The purchase price will be based on the assessed fair market value of the lot.

CRDG plans to reignite its casino license pursuit once the moratorium formally expires.

The 2022 blueprint proposed before the moratorium passed — dubbed “Cedar Crossing” — suggested a $250 million investment featuring a casino with around 1,000 slot machines and 60 table games, several restaurants and bars, and a 1,500-seat concert hall.

PGA Tour star and Iowa native Zach Johnson, who has presumably lost some fans recently for his dismal Ryder Cup captainship and a scandal during the Masters where he seemingly yelled obscenities at patrons, was involved in the 2022 presentation. The two-time major winner was to open a sportsbook and taproom called “The Clubhouse by Zach Johnson” at the Cedar Crossing destination.