Riverboat gambling bill passes Iowa Senate


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Despite two defeats last year, a bill legalizing floating casinos on Iowa's rivers and lakes resurfaced Tuesday and won Senate passage on a 26-23 vote.

The measure was defeated on a 22-28 vote only last Wednesday, but some behind-the-scenes manuevering changed the outcome. The controversial bill was defeated twice last year in the Senate but now appears headed for final approval because House leaders strongly support the idea.


Supporters invoked images of gamblers on old-time riverboats plying up and down the Mississippi River and argued casino gambling will enhance the mystique of the Mississippi River as a worldwide tourist attraction.

Two developers already have announced plans to build large gambling boats on the Mississippi in the Quad Cities area if the measure becomes law.

Opponents said Iowa has enough gambling with pari-mutuel betting, lotto and bingo and would not be able to control the new casinos.

Under the bill, a county-wide voter referendum must be held before a gambling license can be issued to a non-profit organization. The bill limits the casino style games to a $5 betting limit and $200 loss on each excursion.

A key amendment sponsored by Sen. George Kinley, D-Des Moines, that was approved by senators during Tuesday's debate would delay the gambling boats' operation until April 1, 1991. A renamed state racing and gaming commission would issue gambling licenses and decide where and how many boats would operate.


The passage of Kinley's amendment won his support for the bill and assured at least one other senator would switch his vote from the previous week.

Eastern Iowa lawmakers complained after last week's defeat that the Legislature was ignoring their concerns. They said Tuesday's victory marked a bright day for the economically depressed counties along the Mississippi River.

'It means the people can vote on it, that's what they wanted,' said Sen. Maggie Tinsman, R-Davenport, who unseated an incumbent senator last year over the issue.

Sen. Wally Horn, D-Cedar Rapids, the bill's floor manager, said riverboat gambling, as the bill is popularly known, would create hundreds of new jobs, bring in millions of dollars in out-of-state money and prompt the construction of new hotels and restaurants.

'This will be a first-class operation that will be enhanced by gambling,' Horn said.

Sen. William Dieleman, D-Pella, warned the casinos would spread to land eventually and promoters would be lobbying to raise the betting limits.

'Few of you understand what casino gambling really is,' Dieleman said. 'The state has more gambling now that it can handle. What we're saying is, 'let's bring it in and hope we can control it. ' '

Dieleman said supporters were being duped by the economic development arguments and called the measure 'anti-family.'


Sen. Jim Riordan, D-Waukee, who voted against the bill last week, said he changed his mind because of the voter referendum provision.

'I trust the people at the local level, this is not going to be an easy sale anywhere,' Riordan said.

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