BURLINGTON — The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to grant a license for a $40 million casino development that will be located in rural central Iowa.
Supporters of the casino proposed in Jefferson, a town of 4,200 about 60 miles northwest of Des Moines, burst into applause when commission chairman Jeff Lamberti cast the deciding vote in favor of the license during a meeting in Burlington.
Lamberti said it was a "very, very difficult decision," noting concerns that the gambling market in Iowa is saturated and the casino would drain business from Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in suburban Des Moines. But he said the economic benefit for a rural area that has struggled was a deciding factor.
"I do have an interest in making sure that rural folks get part of this as well," he said.
The vote marks the first license granted for a new casino in Iowa since 2010, and could be the last for several years. Lamberti told reporters after the vote that the commission was considering a moratorium on new licenses, and would announce the details at a meeting next month.
The approval comes two months after the commission voted 4-1 to reject a proposed $164 million casino development in Cedar Rapids, the state's second largest city. Commissioners said that casino would have taken too much business away from existing casinos in Riverside, Waterloo and elsewhere.
Wild Rose Entertainment, which owns casinos in Emmetsburg and Clinton, will build the Jefferson development at the intersection of Highway 30 and Highway 4. It would include 525 slot machines, table games, an events center and a 71-room hotel. The company's president and chief operating officer, Tom Timmins, said construction would begin in the next 30 days, with a goal of opening the casino in August 2015.
Plans call for the casino to hire 275 employees, adding $7 million annually in payroll and benefits to the local economy. Wild Rose has agreed to give five percent of its adjusted gross revenue to the license holder, Grow Greene County, which will use the estimated $1.5 million annually to support nonprofit groups and civic projects throughout the region.