A winner in Iowa’s gambling license sweepstakes.

His city will reap millions of tax dollars from the glitzy $107 million Washington County Casino & Golf Resort, which is expected to open in early 2007.

“You’ll have to search hard to find anybody who is negative about it,” Poch said.

Few people are leaping for joy, though, in Kalona, a country town six miles west of here where it’s common to see horse-drawn carriages with Amish farmers on the road. Many in Kalona opposed the casino plans before last week’s approval by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

We’re not exactly happy, because gambling can be a waste of money and we are not sure how it can better our community,” said Betty Engel, who owns a natural foods store in Kalona. “But we want to think positive about it now. It could bring a lot of tourists in.”

Mixed reactions to news that Riverside won a casino license aren’t all that surprising. Washington County voters were fairly evenly divided last year on a referendum to authorize casino gambling. The proposal was approved by a 52-48 margin.

Similar feelings are being expressed in Wapello County, where not everyone was disappointed with the state’s rejection of a proposed $40 million riverboat casino in Ottumwa. Wapello County voters had favored casino gambling by a 54-46 margin in an October 2003 election.

State regulators awarded licenses last week for casino projects in Waterloo, Emmetsburg and Worth County, as well. The commission denied casino license requests from Fort Dodge, Franklin County and competing bids from Waterloo and Emmetsburg.
In Riverside, a community of 928 people south of Iowa City, Mayor Poch is only thinking positive in the aftermath of last week’s events.

Poch gives a thumbs-up as he talks about the 850 jobs that will be created by his town’s riverboat casino and championship golf course. The city will net nearly $2 million a year from the resort complex, more than double the city’s existing budget of $900,000.

The launching of the casino boat along the Iowa River should help revitalize Riverside’s mostly boarded-up business district, Poch said. He’s hoping to attract shops selling ceramics, silversmith items, leather goods and antiques to some of the 1.5 million gamblers who are annually expected to visit the casino complex.

He also envisions a plan to capitalize on the city’s claim to be the future birthplace of Star Trek Capt. James T. Kirk. One of the possibilities is a Star Trek museum.

“On University of Iowa football weekends, it’s going to be wild around here,” Poch said. “There is no way we aren’t going to get several thousand people coming here. They’ll come to the hotel on Friday night and do some gambling and I would imagine there would be tour buses to bring them back on Saturday evening to continue the festivities.”

The Riverside casino will be owned 50 percent by local investors, 43.75 percent by Iowa’s Catfish Bend Casino, and 6.25 percent by Kehl Management. The casino complex will be built on Iowa Highway 22, about 11/2 miles east of U.S. Highway 218.

In Wapello County, Ottumwa community leaders were unhappy the riverboat casino proposed by Wild Rose Entertainment did not receive one of the coveted gambling licenses. The Wild Rose application received two votes from the five-member Racing and Gaming Commission, one short of approval.

Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel said after the commission’s action he was trying to determine how to sway one more commissioner before a moratorium on additional licenses is considered in July.

On Saturday, Gov. Tom Vilsack said he wants gaming commissioners to reconsider Ottumwa. Commissioners balked, but Vilsack said Ottumwa was in need of a boost and “people relied on (the casino license) to push them through.”

“The economy here is very bad,” Short said. “We have too many McDonald’s and Wal-Mart jobs and those that aren’t paying anything.”

Back in Riverside, the future looks bright, predicted Dan Kehl, chief executive officer of the Washington County Casino & Golf Resort.

The plans include 1,100 slot machines, 30 table games, a 200-room hotel, a 1,200-seat showroom, a recreational-vehicle park and an 18-hole golf course designed by Rees Jones Inc. The complex, which is now farmland, is expected to generate annual gross gambling revenues of between $85 million and $92 million.

Paul Laroche, who manages Riverside Grain and Feed Co., said the casino won’t have much impact on his business, because he deals almost strictly with farmers.

“But overall for the town, it’s definitely going to bring in a lot more money,” Laroche said. “We have lost some businesses in Washington County and we definitely need something.”


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