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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Palo Alto residents push gambling proposal

Tuesday, May 6, 2003

The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors could set the date for a countywide gaming referendum after Emmetsburg leaders submitted a petition that calls for a special election.

Diane Hamilton, a Storm Lake resident who is vice chair of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, says a proposed Five Island Lake floating casino wouldn't automatically negate efforts for a gambling boat in Dickinson County or the preliminary discussion of a boat on Storm Lake.

Local observers think northwest Iowa's sparse population would prevent the launch of two gambling boats in the same area.

"We sure don't need two of them, but that is just my opinion," said Ron Smith, who chairs the Emmet County Board of Supervisors.

His county also has several potential sites for a gaming boat, but says there isn't a local group pushing for a casino in the Estherville area.

"(Dickinson) and Palo Alto County is a lot farther ahead," Smith said.

Emmetsburg City Developer Tom Alger told the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors last week that a group approached his city about establishing a gambling boat at Five Island Lake.

The supervisors unanimously approved a zoning change that would keep the prospects of a gambling boat north of town alive. The affirmative vote came despite some objections from local clergy. Palo Alto County gaming supportors have already submitted a special election petition to clear one of the hurdles established by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

"In the last couple of weeks it has accelerated a lot," said Lannie Miller, a Palo Alto County Supervisor. "They've already got 600 names on a petition and it only takes 358. Basically, the county has lost population and we can't hang on to young people. We need to have something that is not tied to agriculture and they're thinking this will be their lifesaver.

"I don't know - I am not against gambling. I do a little of it, but my idea of gambling is flying to Vegas for a three-day weekend then come home and talk about it for a year. I really thought that was what Iowa was about. I didn't think gambling would ever work in Iowa because the people are pretty conservative."

Miller also downplays the presence of a Dickinson County effort as a factor in Emmetsburg's time line.

Dickinson County leaders began exploring the possibility of gaming in the Lakes area after talk of expanded gambling surfaced in the current legislative session. Gaming advocates are gathering signatures for a special election in Dickinson County, but a petition has not yet been filed.

"I don't know if that has anything to do with it at all," Miller said. "They think this is their salvation and they're pushing hard to try to do it."

Hamilton said a lot of work has to be done before the commission would consider lifting its moratorium on gaming facilities. Iowa currently has nine gaming boats and three racetracks throughout the state.

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