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Casino Owners Respond to Investigation Call

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS 2/Fox 28) -- In an exclusive report, CBS 2 News has the response of two Iowa casinos to our investigation.

New developments in a story you'll only see on CBS 2 regarding $110,000 in casino contributions to Iowa Racing and Gaming Chairman Jeff Lamberti's charity, donations made a month after Cedar Rapids applied for a gaming license.

CBS 2's Tiffany O'Donnell broke the story Friday night. On Saturday CBS 2 received statements from the casinos regarding the donations and access to the chairman.

In August 2013, a group of Cedar Rapids investors applied to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission for a gaming license.  On April 17th, 2014, the application was denied by a 4-1 vote, led by commission chair, Jeff Lamberti.

CBS 2 News has learned Lamberti also chairs a non-profit called Battleship Iowa; the restoration of the USS Iowa.  We have confirmed through a Battleship Iowa board member, some of the major donors to the cause include Riverside Casino and Prairie Meadows Casino; entities who publicly fought against the issuing of a Cedar Rapids license.

In addition, just ten days before the Cedar Rapids casino vote, Monday, April 7th, representatives from Riverside Casino, including owner Dan Kehl, and Prairie Meadows Representative attended a private dinner hosted by a Battleship Iowa at Terrace Hill, the Governor's mansion. Commissioner Lamberti was also there that night.

In a phone interview, Lamberti insists this event had nothing to do with the casinos.  He also says he made himself fully available to all parties involved in the casino licensing process.

City Councilman Justin Shields is calling for an investigation.

Riverside Casino owner Dan Kehl is out of town and issued this statement:  "We have supported the USS Iowa since we first visited the ship in the spring of 2012.  The Iowa Legislature contributed $3 million that same year to save it from being scrapped.  We have been financial supporters, like many other Iowans and Iowa companies and plan to continue supporting this significant historical museum tied to Iowa.  Nearly 20 percent of the visitors to the ship are Iowans and hopefully more Iowans will make the journey to see the restoration.  We were invited to Terrace Hill to get an update on the museum from the director and staff while they were in Des Moines to visit the Legislature.  We were honored to attend."

We spoke with Prairie Meadows President and CEO, Gary Palmer, by phone today.  He says, "It's (Battleship Iowa) a charity we believe in.  It's part of the history of Iowa.  There's no intention but to help the state of Iowa and the USS Iowa, and the same with organizations we give to every year.  It had absolutely nothing to do with Lamberti."

Steve Gray sent us a response, on behalf of the Cedar Rapids Investment Group: "We clearly believe that Cedar Crossing would have a positive impact on the state of Iowa, Linn County and Cedar Rapids and we are both surprised and disappointed with the commission's decision.  Based on this new information you have provided it raises even more serious concerns that need to be fully understood."

CBS 2 News will continue to follow developments in this story including any possibility of an investigation called for by Councilman Shields.
 
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