Proposal For On-Site Casino Submitted To Des Moines Airport Authority

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Looking for ways to address a shortfall in funding for a new terminal, the Des Moines Airport Authority received a proposal earlier this week that includes an on-site casino.

The Highview Development Group submitted a plan Tuesday that calls for a $225 mm hotel and casino to be built in conjunction with the new terminal. The existing terminal at the Des Moines International Airport has been used since its opening in 1948, and according to the Des Moines Register, Des Moines Partnership 2020 Board Chair Tom Mahoney said there is a funding gap of $194 mm for the projected $500 mm cost of the new terminal.

Wild Rose Casino and Resort linked to proposal

The Highview Development Group is led by Reggie Sinha, who is the president and development of business for Sinha Strategies LLC and has long-standing ties to Iowa. While there is no casino formally attached to the proposal, Wild Rose Entertainment is also part of the Highview Development Group, and Sinha is the driving force behind the project.

“I have an advanced degree as a transportation planner, and have taken a number of projects overseas as a hobby per se,” explained Sinha, whose enthusiasm for the project was apparent throughout the phone interview. “Then about 18 months ago in summer of 2018 was when the Des Moines airport came up with their idea for what their terminal should look like.

“Small airports in the U.S. have a ‘terminal problem,’ an ability to sustain and expand. Low volume means you don’t have energy, money, and resources for things like retail and restaurants. Big cities create cities inside airports, create a good revenue stream. The casino, the hotel, are some ways to make (Des Moines) a destination airport, to stay and enjoy. Iowa is all about that — a small state and something to toot their own horn.”

Wild Rose, whose chairman and founder Gary Kirke is a Des Moines native, runs casinos in Clinton, Emmetsburg, and Jefferson. Sinha was able to convince Kirke, whom he called “a very proud Iowan, a very recognizable Iowan” to join the group by promoting the plan as a legacy project given their state ties, and Wild Rose Casino & Resort released a statement clarifying their spot in the project Wednesday via statement:

Wild Rose Entertainment supports the Des Moines Airport Authority in its goal of making the Des Moines airport a world-class destination venue that better serves the air travel needs of the community and its visitors as well as acts as an agent for economic development. 

Should the Highview Development Group project, led and originated by Reggie Sinha, garner the necessary public and regulatory support, Wild Rose would be pleased to be the casino operating partner. At this juncture, the project is conceptional and much work needs to be done before it can come to fruition. 

Mr. Sinha will lead and direct that endeavor. 

It should be noted that Wild Rose is not the first nor the only casino organization approached by Mr. Sinha and his Highview consortium. The company supports and is part of his efforts to put forth a creative solution to generate a long-term, continuous funding stream for the airport’s much needed improvements.

The plan calls for a premium hotel with 300-350 hotel rooms in a building 12-14 stories that would include chain restaurants and an event center. There would also be a pedestrian skywalk connecting the hotel to the airport terminal, and between the two buildings would be a Bellagio-style “dancing water fountain” with a rock and flower garden.

To say Sinha is a fan of the dancing water fountain would be a huge understatement, and he admitted he will be pushing to keep it in whatever final plan is approved should it come to fruition.

Is there room for two casinos in Des Moines?

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s refusal to grant a casino license to the city of Cedar Rapids — the state’s second-largest city — while citing concerns of cannibalization in the southeast region does raise the question of whether two casinos 20 miles apart in the metropolitan area of the Hawkeye State’s largest city can co-exist, something Sinha admits is a “legitimate question.”

Des Moines International Airport is located on the southwest part of the city limits, while the Prairie Meadows Race Track and Casino operates on the northeastern fringe in Altoona. Owned by Polk County, Prairie Meadows has been the lone gaming establishment in the Des Moines area since opening as a race track in 1989. It expanded via slot machines in 1995, table games in 2004, and sports betting last August.

With a state-high $105 mm in adjusted gross revenue, Prairie Meadows has accounted for 14.1% of all gaming revenue in Iowa in fiscal year 2020 and contributed $22.6 mm in tax revenues this fiscal year according to the IRGC’s most recent report.

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Chris Altruda

Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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