Longtime Prairie Meadows President Resigns

Bob Farinella resigned Jan. 18 after nearly 12 years as Prairie president and general manager of Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Altoona, Iowa.

Farinella, 60, said it was simply time for a change. He said he has some entertainment ventures he hopes to get started in eastern Polk County, where the racetrack is located, but said he doesn't plan on going back into the casino industry.

"I worked hard to get Prairie Meadows to where it is, and I have two great grandkids in Virginia," Farinella said. "At this time, I have the opportunity to pull out of Prairie Meadows and leave it grounded in great shape."

Farinella's resignation will take effect Feb. 17. He will receive a compensation package that includes a year's pay--about $240,000--plus insurance. Jack Bishop, chairman of the Prairie Meadows board of directors, will be the acting chief executive officer until a replacement is found.

While board members emphasized Farinella's resignation was voluntary, some acknowledged privately there was some friction, in part over Prairie Meadows' current expansion project. Farinella pushed hard for making a hotel and national restaurants part of the project, something board members said couldn't be afforded.

Even without the hotel, the project was expected to cost at least $60 million and perhaps $80 million.

"I think among the board members there was a general belief that we wanted to move in a new direction," board member Tom Whitney said. "I think Bob felt like he wanted to do some things differently with his life, like have more time with his grandchildren. This is a burnout, almost 24 hours a day job, and it's difficult to do."

Farinella said the hotel is something Prairie Meadows needs. But he said the seemingly endless series of crises that follow Prairie Meadows didn't wear him out. Once Prairie Meadows became a cash cow, there were endless fights over the track's profits. They became so severe that the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission threatened to revoke Prairie Meadows' gambling license in 1997.

"I do want to do other things in life, but I'm not tired of the grind," he said. "There was a lot of frustration (with the project costs), but they weren't just my frustrations, they were everyone's frustrations."

Board member Ted Lodden praised Farinella, pointing out that Prairie Meadows' revenue has grown while its percentage of operating costs has been relatively low.

Farinella was hired in 1994 as Prairie Meadows prepared to add slot machines to its horse racing operation. Since the slot machines started operating April 1, 1995, Prairie Meadows has provided $274,433,130 to Polk County above what the county invested in the facility.

"It ought not to be lost that Bob Farinella served as chief executive officer at Prairie Meadows during a period of growth and expansion, and that ship is safe," Whitney said. "He contributed to that, and ought to be honored for that."

Prairie Meadows' executive board will meet the week of Jan. 23 to discuss the process for selecting a new general manager. "We need to get someone with horse and casino experience," board member Nolden Gentry said.