Wild Rose Entertainment LLC, which operates casinos in Emmetsburg and Clinton and has proposed similar facilities in Urbandale and Ankeny, has been selected to develop a casino and convention complex in Warren County.
The casino, 150-room hotel, events and bowling center would be located in a largely rural area of Norwalk between Iowa Highway 28 and 50th Avenue and south of Iowa Highway 5.
The announcement follows a telephone survey that attempted to measure support among county residents for such a facility. Jason White, who heads the Warren County Economic Development Corp., would not say whether a majority of those surveyed said they would support the casino.
Residents will have to approve a referendum to allow the development. White said the survey asked a variety of questions, including how revenues from a casino should be spent. Reaction from the business community was mixed, with some giving their outright support and others wanting more details about the project.
The project would bring an estimated $4.5 million in revenue to the county, or 4.5 percent of total gaming receipts, and create 450 full-time jobs and 250 temporary construction jobs, according to the Warren County Economic Development Corp.
Revenues would be distributed in this fashion: 1.5 percent to schools, 1.5 percent to cities and 1.5 percent would be offered to local competitive grants.
State law requires that 3 percent of gambling revenues be directed toward nonprofit entities.
A coalition named Warren County Citizens for Good Jobs has been seeking signatures to place a referendum on the ballot May 7.
"After having some initial conversations with members of the community about bringing 600 jobs to Warren County, along with property tax relief and significant revenue to strengthen our schools and infrastructure, the decision to move forward was an easy one for our coalition to make," Norwalk Mayor Doug Pierce said in a news release.
Supporters of the coalition include the Indianola and Norwalk fire chiefs and a Simpson College student, as well as business owners and other citizens, according to a news release.
White said he is aware that the Warren County casino referendum could face stiff opposition, primarily orchestrated by Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, where officials have been strident in their opposition to Wild Rose's initial efforts to locate operations elsewhere in Greater Des Moines. Gary Palmer, the executive director at Prairie Meadows, could not be reached for comment.
Ankeny City Manager Jim Spradling said there has been little communication with Wild Rose officials since last fall, when a vocal group of citizens announced their opposition to the project. Spradling said Wild Rose officials probably noted that there was "no political will" in the city to pursue the project.
Warren County supporters plan to emphasize that casinos have co-existed in relative harmony elsewhere in the state, White said.
Casino supporters contacted several operators and chose Wild Rose because of its expertise and knowledge of the industry, he said.
White stressed that neither Wild Rose nor other operators made the initial contact with Warren County officials.
"We did the reaching out," he said.
"The group ... has done its homework and put together a plan and strategy for obtaining a license and building a first-class project," said Tom Timmons, director of operations for Wild Rose Entertainment.