If casino passes, do it right

Posted February 27, 2013 at 3:24 pm

FEB. 27 HOME STRETCH COLUMN — PETE TEMPLE, SPORTS EDITOR

You may have been following the debate about whether or not a new casino should be built in Linn County.

The arguments are predictable. Those in favor say a new casino will provide millions in revenue for community projects and other needs, create hundreds of jobs, and keep gambling money in Cedar Rapids that would otherwise have gone elsewhere.

Those against it say it is a tax on the poor and vulnerable, a blight on families and morality, and an over-saturation of casinos in Iowa.

If I were a betting man (sorry), I would wager that the March 5 Linn County vote passes, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission gives the go-ahead, and construction begins within the next year.

I’ve been wrong before. But assuming I’m not wrong, and Cedar Rapids is the latest to join the casino parade, what happens next?

In all likelihood, a new casino would contain most of the elements of all the other casinos across the state. Table games, slot machines, entertainment, etc.

In other words, move along. There’s nothing new to see here. Unless …

Unless they add an element that only three other Iowa casinos have (to my knowledge). Unless they add an ingredient that not only benefits Linn County, but other industries across the state.

Unless they add (prepare to be shocked) … simulcast horse and greyhound racing.

It wouldn’t have to be much. A room that holds maybe 100 people, a bunch of TV screens, teller windows, maybe a small concession stand.

See, there are those of us who like the thrill of the race along with our wagering.

Anyone who reads this column, even if by accident, knows I am one of those. I became a follower of horse racing in 1985, and my interest hasn’t faded in the least. I started following greyhound racing not long afterward.

Even with the advent of casinos, first in my prior home state of Minnesota, and then in Iowa, I haven’t wavered. It is still very easy for me to walk through rows and rows of slot machines and table games with no more than a passing glance, as I make my way to the racing simulcast area.

Prairie Meadows, by the way, has done it right. The middle floors are flooded with machines and gaming tables. So if that’s what you’re after, that’s where you go.

But if you just want to see racing without the constant bing-bang-blip of the machines, you either go to the ground level and outside to the track for live racing, or up to the fourth level for simulcasting.

If the Linn County casino added simulcasting, it would instantly change its appeal, at least to these eyes, from “just another casino” to something special.

So if you’re going to do it, Linn County, please do it right. Open your doors to the usual slot-and-table gaming crowd. And set aside a simulcast section for the rest of us, those of us who like having an exciting, challenging sport attached to our playing.

Otherwise, don’t bother.

Bla