Cedar Rapids Casino supporters launch PAC after passage of Iowa’s 2-year ban on new gaming licenses

The proposed Cedar Crossing Casino, a $250 million, 160,000 square foot entertainment and cultural arts complex on the old Cooper’s Mill site in Cedar Rapids, is featured in a display. (Courtesy of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment)

Jonathan Swain, part of the Cedar Crossing Casino proposal, speaks to the media after a 2017 meeting of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission in Dubuque. (The Gazette)

Riverside Casino CEO Dan Kehl speaks to a reporter before the start of a 2014 Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission meeting in Council Bluffs. (The Gazette)

  • Supporters of a proposed casino in Cedar Rapids have formed a political action committee.
  • The casino proposal stalled this year when the Iowa legislature imposed a two-year moratorium on new gaming licenses.
  • As of October, the Cedar Rapids Development PAC had committed $47,750 to campaigning for Iowa politicians.
  • Another Casino Interest PAC — created by Dan Kehl, an opponent of Cedar Rapids’ casino proposal — has given more than $450,000 to Iowa politicians since 2016.

CEDAR RAPIDS — To rally support for Cedar Rapids’ third attempt at a casino after the state’s moratorium on new gaming licenses expires in 2024, Linn County’s gaming interests have begun funding the political campaigns of key state leaders and potentially their influence to strengthen in the state house.

The Cedar Rapids Development Group PAC — the political action committee formed by supporters of a potential Cedar Rapids casino — donated $47,750 to Republican and Democratic candidates in the nomination period that ended Oct. 14, just weeks before the midterm elections on November 8, the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

“We made the decision to form Cedar Rapids Development Group PAC to promote dialogue on policy issues related to economic development in Linn County,” said Jonathan Swain, president of Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the city’s preferred casino operator , in a statement.

Cedar Rapids Development Group is a subsidiary of Peninsula Pacific composed primarily of local investors. The group has an agreement with the City of Cedar Rapids that guarantees exclusive city support through the gaming license application process through 2029.

“We have been a part of the community for more than 10 years and remain committed to bringing a gaming establishment to Linn County,” Swain said. “This commitment is long-term, and participating in the political process is part of that commitment.”

The PAC was formed after Iowa lawmakers curbed Cedar Rapids’ third attempt to obtain a gaming license from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission earlier this year.

Senator Roby Smith, a Republican from Davenport who was just elected State Treasurer, passed the amendment of a major gambling regulation bill to prevent the Gambling Board from issuing new licenses until July 2024.

Rhythm City Casino Resort, one of the Elite Casino Resorts operated by Chief Executive Officer Dan Kehl, is located in Davenport. Kehl, whose company also operates the Riverside casino, is a staunch opponent of a casino in Cedar Rapids and has argued that a gaming facility here would “cannibalize” revenue from existing properties.

Kehl, who has made campaign contributions for political leaders in the past, beat Cedar Rapids in the city’s attempt to obtain a license after failed attempts in 2014 and 2017.

Elite PAC donated $83,800 to the campaigns of key political figures, including Smith and Gov. Kim Reynolds, during the period that Linn County casino talks began in the winter of 2021 pending the passage of the licensing moratorium. Reynolds signed the bill into law despite direct requests for a veto from Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell.

When asked if the moratorium was the impetus for creating a PAC, Swain said a number of factors contributed to its creation.

“…We remain committed to delivering a state-of-the-art project to Linn County,” Swain said.

Campaign funding records show that Cedar Rapids Development Group PAC gave $37,250 to Iowa Republicans including House Speaker Reynolds, Senate Majority Leader Pat Grassley, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, outgoing Senate President Jake Chapman and the congressman Bobby Kaufman from Wilton.

The PAC also contributed to the campaigns of 19 other GOP figures, including Linn County Legislative Candidates Kris Gulick, Susie Weinacht and Rep. Charlie McClintock.

In addition, the PAC split $10,500 among eight Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls and House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst. The other candidates were mostly local lawmakers, including MPs Molly Donahue, Eric Gjerde, Dave Jacoby, Art Staed and Senator Todd Taylor.

At the end of the period, the PAC had $12,250 in cash remaining.

The next report with full data on campaign contributions from the 2022 midterms cycle will not be published until January. The October report is the most recent available.

During the same reporting period, Elite PAC, the committee registered under Kehl, reported donations to 31 candidates and the Iowa Democratic Party totaling $94,000.

Most of that sum went to Republicans, including Reynolds, Grassley, Whitver, Chapman, and Kaufmann. Just $21,000 was channeled to Iowa Democrats serving primarily in party leadership roles or local candidates, including Konfrst, Wahls, Jacoby and outgoing Senator Kevin Kinney.

This period is just a sample of the more than $450,000 that Elite PAC has paid out to candidates in Iowa since its inception in 2016.

When asked if Cedar Rapids Development Group’s casino supporters are confident their contributions will impress Iowa political leaders, in contrast to Kehl’s longer history of campaign contributions, Swain replied, “We are confident that the policymakers are making the right decisions.” options for the state will choose once they have fully studied and understand all the considerations.”

Cedar Rapids Development Group previously shared plans for the Cedar Crossing Casino, a $250 million, 160,000 square foot entertainment and cultural arts complex on the site of the now demolished Cooper’s Mill along the west side of the Cedar River between Kingston Village and Zeitcheckpark.

The proposal includes bars, restaurants, a 1,500-seat entertainment center and other venues. It would also include flood protection to protect the structure from rising water.

But until the end of the moratorium in 2024 — and assuming lawmakers don’t further extend the ban on new gaming licenses — Cedar Rapids’ gaming interests will have to wait to pursue their long-cherished casino dreams.

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