April 12, 2013

Greene County economic-development officials and business leaders announced today that an exploratory process has begun to determine if gaming and a casino in the Jefferson area should come before voters in a countywide referendum.

"Here in Greene County we have watched closely as others around the state have benefitted from the presence of a casino and we've been patient. The time is now for us to study the impact of a casino in our county, and that starts with learning from the voters," said Norm Fandel, vice president of business development and member services for Jefferson-based Midland Power Cooperative.

The casino is expected to include complimentary entertainment features, making it a destination complex not only for recreation but business and cultural events as well. Greene County officials are working with a well-established casino operator on the potential project.

With the unanimous endorsement of the Greene County Development Corporation (GCDC) and the Greene County Board of Supervisors, the decision to proceed with the referendum process has begun.

"We decided it was time to learn how residents of our county would feel about gaming here and the presence of this type of entertainment facility," said Ken Paxton, executive director of the GCDC. "Beginning this week, a live phone survey conducted by an Iowa company will reach out to voting residents of Greene County. The results of this survey will give us actual specifics about voter interest and issues and will help us determine the best approach with the best messages should we decide to proceed."

The surveying, aimed at a getting a representative sample of voters from Greene County, reportedly started Tuesday night and will continue for several days

Greene County officials say once data has been gathered and analyzed over the next few weeks, they will determine how to proceed. If the result of the survey leans positively, the next official date that can be established for a referendum to allow legalized gambling in Greene County is Aug. 6.

The referendum requires a majority vote. The casino developer and an associated not-for-profit entity would have to obtain licensing from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission in a public process.

"We know that our area would benefit greatly from the casino revenue distribution that would be given out through a non-profit group to organizations and schools in need throughout Greene County," said Fandel, the GCDC president. "Our area is enough of a distance away from other casinos to take away any concern about negatively impacting the business operations of other casinos. We know that gaming in Iowa has been very successful and well-handled. Now we will see if the residents of Greene County also feel ready to start this journey."

Business leaders anticipate official public announcements about possible location, job creation and other elements of the proposed Jefferson-area casino once the exploratory phase has concluded.

Iowa currently has 18 state-regulated casinos. The closest casino to Jefferson - Prairie Meadows in Altoona, east of Des Moines - is about 75 miles. Wild Rose Casino & Resort in Emmetsburg is 90 miles from Jefferson.

A map of the state's casinos show Jefferson in the middle of an under-served territory for casinos, a factor local development officials say will create a major draw for a gaming-and-entertainment facility in Greene County.