by Dan Johnson
Jim Rasmussen stepped down as chairman of the Prairie Meadows board of directors May 9 in the midst of health concerns and charges he had bet with a bookmaker on football games.
"Jim's concern is number one for his family, and number two for his health, and that's why this entire thing needs to end," said Maggi Moss, Rasmussen's attorney and a member of the 13-person Prairie Meadows board.
Rasmussen was appointed to the non-profit Racing Association of Central Iowa board when Prairie Meadows came out of bankruptcy in 1993. He became chairman two years later. He helped push for legislation that allowed Iowa tracks to add slot machines, and oversaw Prairie Meadows' transformation from a penny-poor white elephant to a $40- to $50-million-per-year golden goose.
Rasmussen, 66, was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in January 2000 and had frequently talked of stepping down from the track board, only to stay on to see a flurry of projects through: a new contract with Polk County, which owns Prairie Meadows; a purse contract with horsemen; and passage of last November's county referendum that permitted Prairie Meadows to continue slot-machine betting for eight more years.
He became a focus of controversy in April when he and his sons were among 55 people on the prosecution's witness list against Robert Derryberry of Norwalk, Iowa, who was accused of running a multimillion- dollar bookmaking operation. Rasmussen faces no criminal charges, but being on the witness list led to an Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission investigation.
The commission voted to have a contested case hearing charging Rasmussen with illegal betting and noted there was an especially high standing for him as a director of a gambling operation.
Moss has been negotiating with commission representatives for a settlement in which Rasmussen would step down from the Prairie Meadows board, but his wife Sandra, who has the main interest in the racing operation, would be able to continue to run horses. Moss has requested the commission hearing set for May 15 be continued to August.
"We will continue to attempt to resolve the charges," Moss said. "I don't know if we can."