Proposed casino would share 5 percent revenue with nonprofits

DES MOINES – Supporters of a proposed Jefferson casino said Tuesday they have reached an agreement with the casino operator to share 5 percent of the revenue with charitable organizations in Greene County and the surrounding area.

Groups in Webster County will be eligible to receive some of that casino money, according to Peg Raney, the secretary of Grow Greene County Gaming Corp.

”We’re very excited about reaching out to the surrounding counties,” Raney told The Messenger Tuesday afternoon. ”We’re offering it to the contiguous counties, so Webster County is a part of that group.”

She said any nonprofit organization, either private or governmental, would be eligible to apply for grants. A specific list of such entities hasn’t been developed by the casino group.

Officials with Grow Greene County Gaming Corp., the nonprofit applying for a gambling license, and Wild Rose Entertainment, the company planning to run the casino, detailed their operating agreement during interviews with The Associated Press ahead of a formal announcement.

Wild Rose CEO Tom Timmins said the Jefferson casino is expected to generate about $30 million a year, which would provide $1.5 million for charitable groups. The state requires casinos to share at least 3 percent of their revenue with charitable groups, though Iowa casinos average 4.1 percent.

Typically casinos distribute the money to projects and groups in the county in which the casino is based. But about 20 percent of the Jefferson casino’s charitable revenue would be shared with counties surrounding Greene.

Norm Fandel, president of Grow Greene County Gaming, said that because the casino is expected to employ residents from surrounding counties, those communities should share in some of the revenue.

“In looking at our job needs in the Greene County area, the contiguous counties are going to help us with the labor pool so we want to reciprocate with some of the funding,” Fandel said.

The casino and hotel has been projected to create enough jobs to equal 275 full-time positions.

Wild Rose wants to build a $40 million casino resort with restaurants, a conference center and a hotel in Jefferson, a city of about 4,200 people. The casino would include 500 slot machines and 14 table games.

Greene County voters approved a casino referendum in August with 75 percent approval, the highest level of support for an initial casino vote in Iowa. But the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission must approve a gambling license for the project and has ordered a marketing study to determine whether the state could support additional casinos.

The study is expected to be completed in February and discussed by the commission at its March meeting. The application for the casino is due to the commission by Jan. 6.

Fandel noted that the county has seen declining population for years, though the last few years have brought growth in manufacturing jobs. The casino and hotel, he said, would provide an additional economic boost.

“It’s just a continuous fit for our area and the impact will be tremendous for us as we move forward,” he said.

The nearest casino is Prairie Meadows, a horse racing track and casino in Altoona, about 70 miles southeast of Jefferson. Emmetsburg’s casino, which also is operated by Wild Rose, is 90 miles to the north.

“When you look at surrounding counties and the location to the nearest casinos, it really isn’t going to impact any of them that much,” Timmins said of the proposed casino in Jefferson. “It just seemed a perfect fit for us.”

He said Wild Rose has developed a business niche in running smaller casinos. In addition to the Emmetsburg operation, the company runs a casino in Clinton.

Iowa currently has 18 state-regulated casinos and three Native American casinos not regulated by the commission. A proposed casino in Linn County also is under consideration by the commission.