Column — Coddling Casinos

Back in the quaint old courting days of Iowa’s casino love affair, the state let you lose only so much. Loss limits were the law. But casinos lobbied to have those small-time limits removed. High stakes, baby, that’s the only way to compete.

Maybe lose your shirt.

Maybe win a bundle. No guts, no jackpot.

But what’s good for the gambler, apparently, isn’t good for the state’s 17 golden geese.

Those existing state-blessed casinos now want a loss limit for themselves, courtesy of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

The commission opened the gates Thursday for new casino license applications from five Iowa counties. But it’s no secret that existing casino interests are not putting out a welcome mat. Shiny new casinos might take some of their business.

Maybe, just maybe, they can live with sticking a new casino in the farthest reaches of Lyon County, to fleece some South Dakotans. But that’s it. Fort Dodge, Franklin County, Ottumwa and Tama? No dice.

Beat it.

Sure. the commission is promising a fair and open application process. But … “I believe that this commission is going to be very protective of the casinos that they have already opened,” said Commissioner Toni Urban of Des Moines.

For a mighty $1.4 billion industry, casinos sure need a lot of protecting.

They needed protection from TouchPlay lottery games muscling in on their turf. Cruising up and down the river was tiring and pricey, and the water was just too wet, so we let them build on nice dry land. Then they needed protection from a pesky smoking ban. Now they’re worried about competition.

I’ve seen the studies, and I don’t doubt that new casinos will bring on a dreaded epidemic of what the industry calls “cannibalization.” For example, a Fort Dodge casino would cannibalize revenue from the Wild Rose Casino in Emmetsburg. Apparently there would be nothing left but a thorny stem.

It’s too bad we don’t have a Hardware Store Commission to save independent stores from big box domination. Where’s the Neighborhood Grocery Commission, to protect mom and pop from supermarkets? But, hey, if casinos take a hit, the state might lose precious revenue. I doubt it. People are going to gamble somewhere.

The state will get its cut.

No, the only losers will be the poor suckers who showed up to vote in those five counties. They thought with votes, investors and a plan, they’d get to compete for some of the dough other towns have been raking in for years.

Maybe they’ve still got a chance. Just like that coin flip. Heads, the casinos win, tails, casino seekers lose.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Column — Coddling Casinos

  1. Martha Not-Stewart

    I am not a gambling supporter. I agree with you that casinos are treated differently than other businesses in this state.

  2. Pingback: Today’s news: Ternus, Burt keep mum | Des Moines Register Staff Blogs

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