Making their case

CHURDAN – A casino would create about 250 new jobs in Greene County and generate more than $10 million in local tax revenue over a decade to pay for schools and government services, organizers of the effort to bring gaming there said Monday evening.

The presence of a casino would also yield more than $12 million worth of charitable donations over 10 years, according to Peg Raney, a member of Grow Greene County, a group which is urging residents to vote in favor of allowing gaming during an Aug. 6 referendum.

At a Monday evening informational meeting on the proposal, Raney said the members of Grow Greene County are ”so positively sure that this is the best thing we can do for Greene County at this time.”

She spoke to about 35 people in the Churdan Community Room during one of a series of town hall meetings on the casino proposal.

The hoped-for casino would be near the junction of U.S. Highway 30 and Iowa Highway 4 in Jefferson. It would be operated by Wild Rose Entertainment of West Des Moines, which has casinos in Emmetsburg and Clinton.

Before the casino can be built, two things must happen. First, the voters must approve gambling during the Aug. 6 referendum.

Then the project must receive a license from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

”They have not indicated per se that there will be more licenses,” said Tom Timmons, the vice president of operations for Wild Rose Entertainment.

He said the commission members have said they will request two studies to determine if there are any areas that are ”underserved” in terms of casinos and if there is a need for new casinos.

”I happen to think this market will show a need,” Timmons said.

Greene County Supervisor Guy Richardson said he’s optimistic a license will be awarded for the Jefferson proposal.

”It’s a pretty sure thing,” he said. ”With this being one of the last underserved areas there will be a casino someplace in this area.”

The casino isn’t a project that would benefit just Jefferson, according to Norm Fandel, the chairman of Grow Greene County and the president of the Greene County Development Corporation.

”When we say community, we’re not talking about Jefferson,” he said. ”We’re talking about the community of Greene County.”

According to Raney, the casino plan evolved from efforts to create a 36-room hotel to be called the Cobblestone Inn. She said that in March the talk turned to combining a casino and a hotel.

”The interest was high,” she said. ”Discussions continued.”

Also in March, the Greene County Development Commission signed an agreement with Wild Rose Entertainment to make that company the operator of the planned casino.

The plan includes a banquet hall and campground in addition to the casino and hotel.

Last month, petitions signed by 690 people requesting a referendum vote were submitted to the Greene County Board of Supervisors. The supervisors then scheduled the Aug. 6 referendum.

During the town hall meeting, representatives of Grow Greene County answered specific questions about the proposal. One of the first of those questions was about smoking. Timmons said smoking would be permitted on the gaming floor, but there would be a no-smoking area. He added that smoking would be prohibited in the rest of the building.

Timmons said the payroll at his company’s Emmetsburg casino is about $6.5 million to $7 million annually. He added that the starting wage is required to be 25 percent above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. That means the starting pay at the casino would be at least $9.06 per hour.