Yes, it's early. But it's quite ambitious. And contentious. A small of group of people in Jasper County (I'm told it's about 8 people in this group so far called the Jasper County Gaming Development Authority) are working on plans to bring a casino to the area near the Iowa Speedway. There's no question Newton's been kicked in the a$% in the past few years as Ralph Hake and his cronies with Maytag decided to leave town with untold millions and leave much of the town unemployed.
First, came the Iowa Speedway. The development brought some much-needed jobs and tourist money to town. But the knock against it is that it can't bring enough year-round, full-time jobs and, of course, it doesn't bring enough year-round tourists. They only come for race days.
A casino, supporters say, could help bring that year-round employment and tourist dollars the Speedway can't. It would help complement the Speedway and vice versa, they say. Then, if Rusty Wallace goes through with that other project to bring retail, restaurants, a hotel and water park to the same area...well, Newton could really have something (btw, that project doesn't seem to be moving along too quickly right now). And what if Cabella's sees all that (and ignores the Bass Pro Shop going up in Altoona) and changes its mind and comes to town in that area, too? But there are a lot of "IFS" to this story.
IF supporters can find the right place for this (Regency has a big area of land right across the street from the Speedway....hmmm...),
IF supporters can find an operator/owner/developer (Gary Kirke's named has been mentioned to me, but I've not heard Kirke say anything yet that he's interested in this),
IF the pro-casino groups can gather 1485 signatures to get the casino issue on the ballot for Jasper County voters,
IF county residents pass it (supporters are pushing for an April or May vote)... Newton might lean a little left, but rural parts lean conservative. Will residents who are only so-so on gambling decide to go for it in the wake of Maytag's departure?
IF The Iowa Racing and Gaming Association awards the project a license (The assn. looks to address more licenses at its March meeting),
IF the assn. ignores Governor Culver's recommendations that IF the state expands gambling, it should give preference to Ottumwa and Fort Dodge, where voters have already approved gambling for their towns,
IF Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino doesn't unite enough opposition... Altoona is only about 20 minutes away from Newton. Dennis Julius, the former Newton councilman, told me supporters have already talked with Prairie Meadows about some kind of way the two casinos could co-exists. He wouldn't say what has or will be discussed. However, Jack Bishop, who chairs P. Meadows' board told us there have been NO conversations so far. Interesting...
Then there could be one of the biggest IFS of them all...IF state lawmakers don't come in and decide the state has enough gambling and pass a moratorium on any new casinos. But trying to do so could open up a huge gambling debate that could go almost anywhere in what's supposed to be a shorter session in an election year (100 days instead of 110 days in off-year sessions).
Could be an interesting couple of months, huh?