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CASINO UPDATE: Call for Investigation

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - Two weeks ago, Cedar Rapids was denied a gambling license by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.  Tonight, in an exclusive report, CBS2/FOX28 outlines the call for a special investigation into the timeline leading up to the vote.

On August 30, 2013, a group of Cedar Rapids investors applied to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission for a gaming license to open a casino in Cedar Rapids.  On April 17th, 2014, the application was denied by a 4-1 vote, led by commission chair, Jeff Lamberti

CBS2/FOX28 news has learned Lamberti also chairs a non-profit called "Battleship Iowa"; the restoration of the U.S.S. Iowa.

We have also confirmed through a "Battleship Iowa" board member, some of the major donors include Iowa casinos that publicly fought against the issuing of a Cedar Rapids license.

CBS2/FOX28 obtained information from "Battleship Iowa", that a month after Cedar Rapids investors applied for a gaming license, an Iowa casino contributed $90,000 to "Battleship Iowa."  Another casino contributed $20,000.  Both also made donations to the ship back in 2012, according to "Battleship Iowa."

In addition, just ten days before the Cedar Rapids casino vote, Monday, April 7th, representatives from two Iowa casinos, including one casino owner, attended a private dinner hosted by "Battleship Iowa" at Terrace Hill, the governor's mansion. Commissioner Lamberti was also there. 

Cedar Rapids City Councilman Justin Shields, a strong advocate for the casino, is calling for a special investigation:

"It's unbelievable that that group of people would participate in a meeting like that, that close to the outcome of the Cedar Rapids vote, and to give money during that time frame.  Just doesn't meet the smell test.  Just does not.  That's why there needs to be a thorough investigation," said Shields.

Commissioner Lamberti is traveling today, we spoke to him by phone:

CBS2/FOX29's Tiffany O'Donnell asked Commissioner Lamberti, "You really don't see any questionable behavior being in a room with the casinos ten days before the vote?"

The Commissioner replied, "No, because I was with Cedar Rapids three days before the vote.  I want everybody to have full access.  Quite frankly, this has nothing to do with casinos, it had to do with the ship and everybody had access to me."

Tiffany pointed out to Commissioner Lamberti that there is a City Councilman in Cedar Rapids who wants a full investigation.

Lamberti said, "That's fine.  I welcome it. If I'm not allowed to help non-profits and have other involvement in life, it's kind of like legislators, they either gotta be full time and do nothing but, and quite frankly, the Iowa's a great cause."

Investor Steve Gray, on behalf of CR Investment Group, sent us this statement: "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."

CBS2/FOX28 will continue to follow developments in this story including any possibility of an investigation called for by Councilman Shields. CBS2/FOX28 is also seeking comment from the casino-related entities that made donations to the "Battleship Iowa" Project. We haven't heard back but will have more details on our investigation in the coming days.
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