Public can weigh in on Sept. 26; decision expected in November
COUNCIL BLUFFS — The path forward for a high stakes decision of whether to approve a gambling license for one or more casinos in downtown Cedar Rapids became clearer today.
White Sand Gaming, of Atlantic City, N.J., and Marquette Advisors, of Minneapolis, were selected from six firms that applied to conduct market studies of the three separate casino license applications for Cedar Rapids.
“Striking a balance between people who’ve been familiar with what we’ve done the past few years and also a new perspective is probably healthy,” said Jeff Lamberti, of Ankeny, a member of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
The commission met today in Council Bluffs and voted unanimously to hire White Sand Gaming, which submitted a $93,000 proposal, and Marquette Advisors, which submitted an $85,100 proposal. Those were the second and third most expensive plans of the six applications submitted, according to commission information.
Other firms competing for the work were Annex Analytics, of Cedar Rapids; Strategic Economic Group, of West Des Moines; Union Gaming, of Las Vegas; and Spectrum Gaming Group, of Linwood, N.J.
No rationale or analysis for picking White Sand Gaming and Marquette Advisors over the other applicants was offered during the two minute discussion before the vote beyond preferring the experience and fresh perspective. Marquette conducted a 2014 market study for casino applications in Cedar Rapids, which failed, and Jefferson, which succeeded.
Brian Ohorilko, commission administrator, said after the meeting panel members considered ordering more studies, but the study costs were a factor in going with just two.
On the table are proposals for the $40 million Wild Rose Cedar Rapids, and two choices from the Cedar Rapids Development Group-Peninsula Pacific partnership: the $105 million Cedar Crossing Central and the $165 million Cedar Crossing on the River.
Wild Rose Cedar Rapids and Cedar Crossing Central are plotted across First Avenue E from each other near the DoubleTree Hotel, and Cedar Crossing on the River is virtually identical to a proposal along the west bank of the Cedar River, which the five-member commission rejected by a 4-1 vote in April 2014.
A timeline for evaluating the proposals also was laid out at today’s meeting and includes the following dates:
July 13 — The developers of the proposed casinos are to make presentations about their projects to the commission at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona.
Sept. 26 — The commission is to visit the three sites and the public will have a chance to weigh in at a public forum about the applications at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex, 350 First Ave. NE.
Oct. 12 — Whitesand Gaming and Marquette Advisors are to present their market studies and the Division of Criminal Investigation is to present criminal background reviews at Wild Rose Casino in Emmetsburg.
Nov. 16 — The commission is to vote on the casino license applications at Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque.
The 2014 market studies were influential in the denial of Cedar Crossing after predicting significant cannibalization of revenue from existing casinos, particularly Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside.
Marquette Advisors and Union Gaming conducted the 2014 market studies.
Marquette Advisors came within 1.7 percent of predicting the annual revenue of Wild Rose Jefferson. The casino had an annual revenue of $28.5 million in its first full year of operation.
However, Marquette Advisors and Union Gaming both overshot predicting cannibalization of the nearest competitors — Wild Rose Emmetsburg and Prairie Meadows in Altoona — by millions of dollars.
Jamie Buelt, a spokeswoman for Wild Rose, said her team is pleased with the blend of familiarity and fresh eyes in the market study vendors and also glad to have the timeline laid out. She said she hopes the new predictions are informed by market reality over the past few years.
“Since these studies, we’ve had experience,” Buelt said. “Instead of just predicting, we can look at the experience. We are optimistic they will look at that.”
Steve Gray, chairman of the Cedar Rapids Development Group, said in a statement the announcement of the timeline is good news for the community.
“We’re eager to make our case with the commission that our proposal is the right fit for the economic development of Cedar Rapids,” Gray said.
The Gazette was unable to immediately reach officials from White Sand Gaming and Marquette Advisors.