Officials with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission say they may stall the expansion of riverboat gaming to avoid oversaturating the market.

Commission chairman Richard Canella has said that the state panel may cap the number of gaming licenses available in Iowa in early 1995. One Iowa county was forced to issue general obligation debt this summer to bail out a failing gaming venture financed by revenue bonds.

"It's a warning shot," said Terry Hirsch, the commission's director of riverboat gambling. The board is saying "we've had quite a bit of activity lately, and maybe it's time to take a breather and see just what the Iowa market will support."

The board has issued six riverboat casino licenses since the Iowa legislature approved the boats in 1989 and is considering seven additional applications. Hirsch said the commission will probably address calls for a slowdown after it dispenses with the pending applications next month.

"They could [set a maximum number of licenses] with a board vote, or they could just put a moratorium on new licenses for a period. I think it will be formalized as time goes on," said Hirsch.

Iowa lawmakers this summer liberalized some restrictions on gaming and legalized slot machines, sparking a renewed corporate interest in establishing riverboat gambling operations. But there are indications that Iowa residents are not as enthusiastic. Voters in Polk County last month defeated a proposal to allow high-stakes riverboat gaming in their area.

Some gaming opponents said residents were turned off when the county was forced to sell $38 million of general obligation refunding bonds this summer to pay off outstanding sports facility revenue bonds that financed construction of the Prairie Meadows racetrack. The track, which declared bankruptcy in 1991, is preparing to install slot machines, which the county expects will produce gaming revenue to support debt service.

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