E’berg shares casino luring lessons

EMMETSBURG – Jefferson representatives learned some of the benefits of having a casino in town Wednesday – and what its residents should do to be successful in drawing one to Greene County.

Proponents of the proposed Greene County casino project took a bus to the Wild Rose Casino & Resort in Emmetsburg to hear from casino staff and members of the community to hear not only the advantages of a casino, but also the effort it takes to get one.

A panel of Emmetsburg business people, government representatives, Chamber of Commerce staff, law enforcement and members of the Palo Alto County Gaming and Development Commission Board offered its thoughts.

Jack Kibbie, a former state senator from Emmetsburg, said it takes a lot of support to bring a casino to a community, but that even with support there will be challenges.

“Local support is very important,” Kibbie said. “But you will have some hurdles to get through an election. It won’t satisfy everybody. Use everything at your disposal to keep your county what it is. When a company that wants to employ a few hundred people wants to come to town, they will look at your labor force.”

Skip Wallace, a member of the Palo Alto County Gaming and Development Commission Board, said one key to success is to always keep a positive image and attitude about your community.

“We never went into this saying if we didn’t get the casino that we would become a ghost town,” said Wallace. “You have to keep it positive.”

Wallace said the casino has had an impact on the Emmetsburg business community. Since the complex opened in 2006, many new small businesses, a McDonald’s restaurant and a Super 8 Motel have opened in the community.

“It appeals to many people,” Wallace said. “Even for those who don’t gamble we have the restaurants, concerts and lots of special events that draw people to town. I don’t know that McDonalds or Super 8 would have located here otherwise.”

Wild Rose General Manager Amy Rubel said the complex employs approximately 278 full- and part-time employees. Many of the employees are local, which Rubel said keeps people in the community. She said the company offers a competitive wage base, insurance and 401k plans and sees a very low employee turnover rate.

“We have also benefited the local community college,” said Rubel. “We have students who come here for part-time jobs.”

Maureen Elbert, executive director of the Kossuth/Palo Alto County Economic Development Corporation, said surrounding counties and communities can also benefit from a casino.

“You have to think about your bordering counties and who will be impacted,” said Elbert.

Norm Fandel, president of the Greene County Development Corporation and chairman of Grow Greene County, said the efforts to bring a casino to Jefferson have only been in place since March.

“We had been doing strategic planning and one thing we realized we were missing was a hotel and convention center,” said Fandel. “We have been in the market for that for about two years.”

Greene County has raised more than $900,000 of a $1 million investment in the effort.

“We went to City Council in March, they thought maybe a casino would be a good idea and we have been pursuing the casino ever since,” he said.

Jefferson has been using Emmetsburg as a model community because the population and local industries are similar.

“We like what Emmetsburg is doing,” said Fandel. “Palo Alto County has been a good model for us.”

Fandel said Greene County was able to collect more than 500 signatures in support of the casino and a referendum was approved by the Greene County Board of Supervisors to allow for an Aug. 6 vote to allow gambling in the county.

“That vote would allow us to move forward with the Gaming Commission,” he said. “They will be the ones who decide if they will allow another casino and if it will be in Greene County.”