Prairie Meadows Tackles Issue of Riverboat Casino

by Dan Johnson

Prairie Meadows received permission July 15 to add table games, but now it must roll the dice on an even bigger issue.

The Altoona, Iowa, racetrack is faced with the possible of a riverboat casino in the Des Moines area. Business interests are pushing for the 13-person Racing Association of Central Iowa to make changes to its board of directors, and in return it would help fight a Des Moines riverboat.

Even with that support, there isn't a guarantee there wouldn't be a riverboat. The Des Moines City Council, fighting budget cutbacks, has complained it doesn't share in Prairie Meadows' profits. Seven groups have approached the city about a riverboat, and the city council listed seven sites where a boat could be placed.

Prairie Meadows has offered to pay Des Moines $5 million a year out of its table-game revenue. But with casino hopefuls promising up to $8 million a year, the city said it wants to pursue its options.

The table games approved by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission may be operating by the end of the year. They will go in temporary locations while Prairie Meadows moves ahead with a $100-million expansion project.

If a riverboat is added, the winning operator could try to form an alliance with RACI. Des Moines businessman Gary Kirke and the Isle of Capri Casinos presented Des Moines with a plan for a $150-million riverboat-hotel complex, while Ameristar Casinos laid out plans for a $200-million development.

Ameristar representatives met with a group of Iowa horse owners July 1 to sketch their vision for Prairie Meadows. They said they would add a turf course, and that purses wouldn't drop below their current level of $16.8 million per year.

"It was a preliminary meeting," said Ray Shattuck, president of the Iowa Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association.

RACI is expected at its July 21 meeting to debate the requests to change its board. Those changes include adding two members and having the five original RACI positions that are elected only by those five members opened up to voting from the entire board.