Originally Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2012, 5:44 pm
Last Updated: Dec. 28, 2012, 7:36 am

Riverboat Development Authority may block Davenport's casino plans

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By Stephen Elliott, selliott@qconline.com

Davenport's plan to buy the Rhythm City Casino may not make it past the Riverboat Development Authority, the local agency that holds the casino's license, RDA officials said Thursday.

RDA treasurer Don Decker, an outspoken opponent of the proposed city buyout of the casino, said there is a battle within the 12-member RDA board on the city's plans. He said he believes six of the members could vote against giving the city its operator's license to run a land-based, city-owned casino.

Mr. Decker, while cautioning that the situation could change, said, "I think there may be enough (RDA votes) to kill this deal."

Mary Ellen Chamberlin, president of the RDA, a supporter of the city's plans, said that if there is a tie vote on the RDA board, "There is no tie-breaking vote. Generally, under parliamentary procedures, a motion fails if there is a tie vote."

In addition to the blessing of the RDA, the city's casino plans must pass muster with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC).

Davenport wants to buy Rhythm City Casino from Isle of Capri for $46 million and move it to an undetermined location. The city wants to take ownership of Rhythm City as early as mid-2013.

The city plans to issue $48 million in bonds over 20 years to complete the purchase.

The IRGC will meet Jan. 10, when Davenport is expected to update the commission on the progress on its casino plans. No action is expected.

The RDA has not scheduled its next meeting, according to Ms. Chamberlin. She said RDA members are reading through three developer proposals submitted last week to the city.

"I want to be sure everybody is really comfortable before we put it to a vote," Ms. Chamberlin said.

She doesn't know when a board vote or meeting would be called. Board chairman Gary Mohr wanted to wait and see the proposals for the casino project before calling a meeting, according to Ms. Chamberlin.

"Now, the proposals are out there and circulating," Ms. Chamberlin said. "We're giving them (RDA members) an opportunity to review. So, I'm assuming we'll have a meeting.

"I don't know if it's critical to have one (before Jan. 10)."

Mr. Mohr could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Ms. Chamberlin said the controversy "is way beyond the culture of the board. It has pretty much been a consensus board. I hope they will eventually be a consensus board on what they want to do.

"If the RDA doesn't agree on an operator's contract, I assume the city has the recourse of asking for another vote or saying it won't buy the casino (Rhythm City)."

"We (RDA) could put this to bed by absolutely voting no and telling them (IRGC) not to issue a (operator's) license," Mr. Decker said Thursday. "People have to stand up and say no to the city.

"If we do that, there will be a thunderous cheer in Des Moines (headquarters of the IRGC)."

IRGC chairman Jeff Lamberti has said he has questions on Davenport's proposal. Earlier this month, he said the city would effectively control the board overseeing casino operations.

"The board proposed by the city would be a significant change in policy for the IRGC," he said via email earlier this month. "Personally, I do have serious concerns about this."

In November, the Davenport City Council approved Mayor Bill Gluba's appointments to the Davenport Community Improvement Corporation (DCIC) , a nonprofit set up to oversee casino operations.

The board consists of city manager Craig Malin, police chief Frank Donchez, Ald. Jeff Justin, along with two members from the RDA, including Ms. Chamberlin, and two members from the general public.

The board is looking at adding to additional members from the public to try and bring more financial expertise to the board.

Ms. Chamberlin, along with other members of the RDA and city officials, are scheduled to take a trip on Jan. 8 to Dubuque to tour the Mystique Casino. The "Dubuque Model" is what the city of Davenport wants to emulate.

The Dubuque casino is city-owned where gaming profits stay in the city, according to Davenport City Administrator Craig Malin.

Ms. Chamberlin said the city is scheduled to meet and interview the developers over their proposals on Jan. 7.

Mr. Lamberti is scheduled to appear on Iowa Public Television at 7:30 p.m. Friday on the show Iowa Press. He will discuss the future of gambling in Iowa, along with IRGC President Wes Ehrecke. The program is scheduled to air again at noon on Sunday.

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