Posted Online: Jan. 05, 2013, 6:41 pm

Davenport works to tip public opinion in favor of city-owned casino

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By Stephen Elliott, selliott@qconline.com


The city of Davenport, encountering community resistance to its plan to purchase the Rhythm City casino, will conduct a pair of events this week intended to get people "up to speed."

The city announced in October it has agreed to buy the casino, which operates on a boat on the riverfront, for $46 million. The city council has solicited proposals from would-be casino operators that would move the operation to land and created the Davenport Community Improvement Corp. to supervise the gambling operation.

On Monday, there will be a public interview of officials from the three companies that offered the city proposals -- Artrium Holding Co., of Alpharetta, Ga.; Restoration St. Louis, of St. Louis, Mo., and Ingenus Management, of Brainerd, Minn.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at River Music Experience, 129 Main St. Citizens are invited to attend and submit written questions. There will be a 30-minute presentation on each proposal.

Topics to be covered on each proposal include site and building plans, gross gaming revenue projections, project design and construction schedule, total private investment, ease of access, parking,impact on local businesses, experience of project partners, financial capacity of project partners, any and all expected public financial participation, and specific project financing and construction proposals.

"I think part of what's happening is the city has months and months, over a year of due diligence on this (casino plans)," city administrator Craig Malin said Thursday. "And, people are now just coming up to speed. I recognize there's going to be questions, and we welcome them and are happy to answer them."

"We're trying to be as transparent as possible," Mayor Bill Gluba said. "By all of these activities, public meetings, inviting people up to Dubuque, I think anyone who is serious in learning something should look at these events and join us."

Following the presentations a 17-member interview panel composed of officials from the city, the Riverboat Development Authority and Davenport Community Improvement Corp. will deliberate.

According to Mr. Malin, no quorum of any public body will be present during deliberations. He said there will be no decision Monday. That will come with followup negotiations prior to final city council consideration of any development agreement.

The plan, to become reality, also must be approved by the Riverboat Development Authority, the nonprofit community board that holds the casino license, and the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

Neither approval is certain. Some members of the RDA are campaigning against the proposal, and Jeff Lamberti, the chairman of the gaming commission, has said he has reservations about the management arrangements the city is discussing.

On Tuesday, the city is sponsoring an outing to Dubuqu, to highlight the operations of the Dubuque Racing Association, members of which will explain how community-owned gaming has worked for their community.

Davenport officials are basing their casino management plans on what they call the "Dubuque Model." The Mystique Casino is city-owned and leased by the city to the Dubuque Racing Association, a 21-member board that serves without salary.

The racing association pays the city rent equal to one percent of gross receipts from slot machines and video machines and 4.8 percent of the table game revenue.

Jenny Larson, budget director for Dubuque, said via email the city-owned casino has generated $99,441,021 in revenue paid to the city of Dubuque from 2003 to 2012.

The local resistance apparently has slowed Davenport's plans.

Originally scheduled to update the racing and gaming commission meeting on Thursday, the update item has been pulled from the agenda. Mr. Lamberti, the IRGC chairman, said that was because of a lack of progress in negotiations.

It is uncertain how that affects the city's expressed desire to get a final OK for the project at the IRGC meeting in March.