Referendum Passed to Continue Slots at Prairie Meadows

By Dan Johnson

Prairie Meadows will be able to continue operating slot machines for another eight years after 66 percent of Polk County voters supported the measure Tuesday.

Prairie Meadows has been at the center of an endless stream of controversy since it opened in 1989, but there was little debate over the referendum. Much of the controversy was diffused when Prairie Meadows reached contract agreements last spring with Polk County, which owns the property, and Thoroughbred and quarter horse owners. The county will get $15.6 million per year to use toward building the Iowa Events Center. Another $15 million will go toward Thoroughbred and quarter horse purses.

Media polls had indicated that the referendum would win handily. In the days prior to the vote, farm owners said they were optimistic, but faced dire consequences if there was an upset.

"If it fails, it'd put us out of business," said Jim Leech, who owns the Willowin Thoroughbreds farm in St. Charles, Ia. "We race some horses, but our primary business is we foal mares. A lot of the mares are owned by out-of-state people who want to get Iowa-breds."

Loretta McClintock, who owns the McClintock Equine Station in Centerville, Ia., said she and her husband had spent $600,000 in farm improvements and would have to change their business had the referendum failed. However, she was always confident that the measure would pass.

"I think the track is too good of a thing for Iowa to lose," McClintock said. "I can't imagine taking something away that's done this much good."