Iowa Court: Racetrack Casino Tax Isn't Equitable

The pari-mutuel industry in Iowa got a major boost June 12 when state Supreme Court justices ruled they could "find no rational reason for treating racetrack slot machines differently than riverboat slot machines." Racetracks currently pay a 32% tax, while the riverboats pay 20%.

The case was brought to the court by the Racing Association of Central Iowa, which operates Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino; the Iowa Greyhound Association; the Dubuque Racing Association; and the Iowa West Racing Association. Iowa has two Greyhound tracks: Bluffs Run in Council Bluffs, and Dubuque Greyhound Park in Dubuque.

The majority opinion states: "Because the differential taxing scheme forces racetracks to pay 80% more taxes than they would as riverboats, the tax frustrates the racetracks' responsibility to distribute money to local government and charitable organizations." It says that, when the racetrack tax hits 36% in 2003, "many of the racetracks would have little, if any, profit."

A revision of the Iowa Code would put the tax at 22% on gross receipts over $3 million for racetracks and riverboats.

In a dissenting opinion, one judge wrote that there is a difference between land-based and floating casinos. "From an entertainment perspective, they speak to different cultural traditions--river lore versus agriculture," the judge wrote.

The case was sent back to Polk County District Court for further consideration, according to the Des Moines Register. One lingering issue is whether the state can be forced to pay refunds of about $121 milllion in casino taxes already paid.