Officials Debate Sale of Prairie Meadows

By Dan Johnson

At least two of Polk County's five supervisors want the county to sell Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino instead of continuing to lease the facility to the Racing Association of Central Iowa. On Sept. 25, supervisors Jack Bishop and Robert Brownell said they support a sale.

"I think it'd be in the best interest of Polk County to work our way out of ownership of Prairie Meadows," Bishop said.

Polk County owns the building and land at the Altoona racetrack, but the racing association holds the gambling license, operates the track and casino, and owns the slot machines and other fixtures. That has resulted in a stormy 12-year marriage rife with arguments over how profits should be split between the county and horse racing.

Brownell said he didn't think the county should own a casino, and that he would support a sale provided the county gets a good price.

Supervisor Nathan Brooks said he favors continuing to lease Prairie Meadows. Negotiations between the county and racing association for a new lease agreement are moving in the right direction, he said.

While Polk County has been averaging $27 million a year in rent and profits, those numbers are expected to decline. Slot-machine betting has leveled off, and the taxes, expenses. and upkeep are expected torise. In addition, Polk County residents will vote in November 2002 on whether Prairie Meadows can continue to offer gaming.

When asked what Prairie Meadows is worth, Bishop said: "This is just my opinion, but in my estimate, the track ought to be worth $150 million. That's just put together on the information I have. Reasonable people may disagree with me on that."

Brownell said it's probably worth more.