Casinos will pay $92 million to end dog racing mandate


By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchog

DES MOINES, Iowa —Decades of state-mandated subsidies for Iowa’s two greyhound racing tracks may be about to end.

In exchange for a $92 million payout to the state’s greyhound racing interests, the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs and the Mystique in Dubuque would no longer be required to subsidize the money losing greyhound racetracks associated with those casinos, according to a bill moving quickly through the state Senate.

The subsidy drag on the casinos has meant less relief for Iowa taxpayers. The impact is felt most directly in Dubuque, where the nonprofit Mystique splits its revenue between the city of Dubuque and local nonprofits and charities.

“It’s really a big hit on the citizens of Dubuque,” Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol told Iowa Watchdog. “Last year the Mystique had to subsidize the track to the tune of $4.3 million, and half of that money would have gone to the city’s capital improvement budget. The city just had to cut $1.5 million from that budget to balance our overall budget.”

The requirement to subsidize the dog tracks was written into the licenses of those two casinos by the state Legislature in the mid-1990’s in an attempt to bolster what was already a fading greyhound racing industry in Iowa.

BIG PAYOUT AT THE DOG TRACK: Two casinos are willing to $92 million if they are no longer required to subsidize their money losing greyhound racetracks.

As interest in greyhound racing continued to decline over the years, subsidies to both casinos have ballooned. Last year, the Horseshoe Casino paid more than $10 million to keep the dogs running at its park. The much smaller Mystique paid more than $4 million.

An attempt in 2010 to end the subsidies was defeated by opposition from the Iowa Greyhound Association, but political opposition to the subsidies has grown.

This year, leaders in the House and Senate, as well as the governor, have pressured the IGA to negotiate a deal to the casinos. SF 2362 is the result of those negotiations. Both sides have agreed to its provisions.

The two casinos would get $20 million to support the upcoming racing season and an additional $72 million over seven years.

The $72 million will be used to help employees in the industry find other work and to allow the IGA to run greyhound races for the next five years at the Dubuque track.

Track rental would be $1 a year with an option for additional five years. If the IGA takes the option, the Mystique would be allowed to raise the rent to whatever is considered fair market value.

In March, IGA attorney and spokesman Jerry Crawford told Iowa Watchdog, “Greyhound racing would be successful in Iowa if it was properly supported and marketed.”

SF 2362 will give the IGA a chance to prove that in Dubuque.

Buol is skeptical. “I don’t see it as a viable operation in Dubuque. There’s just too many other options for your gaming dollar. People only have so much discretionary income.”

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