Possibilities of Warren County casino


by Ben Rodgers

INDIANOLA, Iowa — Offering new entertainment venues, bringing people to Warren County and generating a revenue base that would go to towns, schools and non-profits are the possibilities that the Warren County Economic Development Corporation believes a casino can provide for Warren County.

The Warren County Economic Development Corporation (WCEDC) serves as a county wide, public and private, professional economic development organization for all of Warren County.

Jason White, executive director of WCEDC, believes that there are numerous ways building a casino could aid Warren County.

“Warren County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state,” said White. “Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve been bombarded with lots of businesses that want to come here, expand here and start here.”

White stated that while Warren County is growing in population, there is still a lack of entertainment and hospitality options.

“It’s almost unbelievable that we have fifty thousand people, and we lack all those things,” said White.

White also stated that another problem is that 80 percent of the counties population works outside of the county, leading to shopping and purchasing of services outside of the county.

“One of the things we looked at was how can we bring all of that together and have a sustainable revenue base that can not only bring those things to Warren County but would also benefit the communities in terms of enhanced revenue.”

By law, one percent of all the revenue that a casino generates goes to Warren County cities, schools and eligible non-profits. White stated that cities could use this revenue to offer property tax reliefs or expand infrastructure.

“This would far exceed any other source of revenue that exists in Warren County,” said White. “So from that standpoint then, we believe that this is the kind of opportunity to bring in and fill some gaps in entertainment venues, bring more people to the county so we retain our dollars but also bring in new revenue for people who want to visit, and the final is the revenue base that generated from a project like this.”

Right now, the casino is in a planning period and looking at the possibilities of bringing this venue to the County.

WCEDC sent out random polls to random samples of Warren County residents to evaluate people’s feelings on the Casino. White was unable to release the results of these polls to the Simpsonian.

“We’re in the process of looking at the information, and a decision whether or not to go forward, based on that, should happen pretty soon,” said White.

The next step in the casino would be to placed on a ballot and have the citizens of Warren County vote on the issue.

White stated that he WCEDC has received a lot of support on the issue.

“We have had numerous people who have called our office that are very much in support of this, and by in large, most of the people we have talked to are in support of this project,” said White. “In any project, there are always going to be people out there who don’t like it for one reason or another, and I respect that.”

Right now, there are two Facebook groups surrounding the issue, No Casino in Norwalk or NW Warren County, who opposes the idea, and Warren County Citizens for Good Jobs, who is in support of the issue.

“We’re planning on having a heavy amount of public participation in this process. We’re going to engage people, go to communities, have input sessions and things of that nature,” said White.

White says that they have yet to include Simpson College in the process, but the WCEDC uses the college in their outreach efforts.

Those who are students at Simpson College seem to be unaware that this is going on in their community right now. Those students who were interviewed by the Simpsonian either had no idea about a casino or no thoughts either pro or con on the issue.

While students where unable to share their thoughts and feelings, the Simpsonian interviewed multiple faculty and staff and received their opinions on the issue.

Professor of economics Jim Palmieri sees both benefits and draw backs of building a casino.

“There would definitely be revenue from it. That’s the advantage of it,” said Palmieri. “The disadvantage you’re going to have is having to build an infrastructure, roads, power, utilities to the site, so I’m assuming the county would have to put up some sort of money for the infrastructure around it.”

Palmieri’s other question about the casino concerned whether or not there is a market to sustain it with Prairie Meadows in Des Moines and Lakeside in Osceola. According to White, a study was done a number years ago by the Gaming Commission concluding that central Iowa is the only place that could feasibly and successfully hold a casino and entertainment venue of this kind.

Kedron Bardwell, professor of political science and resident of Warren County, raised concerns about the issue.

“I’m just really hoping if this moves forward, and people start discussing it, that we give time and attention to the social costs, addiction costs, latter government spending that’s going to have to be used to deal with these (addicted) people, and also just the ethical and moral dimensions with expanding gambling,” said Bardwell.

“I would just support the idea that everybody supports economic development. The question is, is it the right kind of economic development?”