by Dan Johnson
Prairie Meadows could add table games and video poker this fall if Gov. Tom Vilsack signs a gambling bill approved by the Iowa legislature. The track's board of directors voted 12-0 April 21 to seek the games should the bill become law.
If everything goes smoothly and the application is approved by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, Prairie Meadows may phase in the new games shortly, even before it begins construction on a bigger facility.
"If all these ifs get through, then we'll try to accommodate people as soon as we can with some games," said Gary Lucas, chairman of the Racing Association of Central Iowa, which operates Prairie Meadows. "I think it'll be less than a year. I would say within six months. But, you have to train people, get equipment, add security--there's a lot of things involved.
"This would be before we went into the major construction, which in the end would house the table games. Also, it would serve our food service and various other things that need to come with expansion."
Prairie Meadows general manager Bob Farinella estimated the games would add $40 million to $60 million in revenue per year.
The racing association appointed a six-member committee to begin studying how to expand Prairie Meadows' facility should it get the table games. All that came minutes after RACI members said the gambling bill left Prairie Meadows with uncertainty because it didn't bar new riverboats from being within 50 miles of existing gambling casinos.
RACI accepted a proposal from the Iowa Senate in which Iowa's racetracks would forgive $128 million in tax debt owed by the state and accept a 24% casino tax rate if they added table games. Riverboats would be taxed at 22%.
RACI said it also wanted to include language to prohibit new casinos within 50 miles of another casino, a reaction to talk of adding a Des Moines riverboat.
"We all voted for the 50-mile radius," RACI member Florence Buhr said. "Now, we're talking about give-and-take. What happened? Whether it was a deal-maker or not, I thought we were pretty firm on the 50-mile radius."
Maggi Moss, another RACI member, said she would not have supported the proposal without the 50-mile ban.
"How are we protected from people in the city that have power and influence?" she asked. "...It was not what we wanted to do. It was a mistake--a huge mistake. I don't buy (the assurance) that the racing commission has to approve the licenses, because now we get back into more politics. Pretty soon, we'll have another governor, and they're all appointed by the governor. We've lost control over it. "