DES MOINES – A unique financial arrangement between two racetrack-casinos and the greyhound racing industry cleared its last legislative hurdle Tuesday and put dog racing on a different course in Iowa.
A rule establishing the Iowa Greyhound Pari-Mutuel Racing Fund and the criteria for distributing annual payouts cleared the Administrative Rules Review Committee of the Iowa Legislature, which last year approved a compromise designed to address the needs of a struggling gambling enterprise.
During the 2014 session, lawmakers accepted a negotiated deal involving casinos in Council Bluffs and Dubuque, Iowa Greyhound Association members and others in which the casinos would pay $72 million over seven years to end their involvement in dog racing.
Owners of the Council Bluffs track agreed to pay about $65 million, while Mystique Casino will contribute about $1 million a year to the fund administered by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
Additional one-time payments will be made to greyhound adoption agencies, greyhound kennel owners, trainers, assistant trainers and industry participants who are able to demonstrate financial hardship caused by the closing of the pari-mutuel dog racetrack located in Pottawattamie County around Council Bluffs.
The rule, approved by the state commission to take effect Nov. 18, sets out criteria and a distribution formula for any money remaining in the fund after one-time payments have been made. It also provides for an application process for one-time payments if live greyhound racing ends in Dubuque County before 2022.
“It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind type situation,” said Racing and Gaming administrator Brian Ohorilko.
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“What’s unique about this is there was money set aside to help with the stakeholders that were in that industry,” he added. “We believe (the rule’s provisions) are very fair and hopefully they’re very representative of the law that was passed last year.”
During the legislative debate, representatives of the dog tracks argued that the economics of greyhound racing have changed nationwide and in Iowa, which was one of only seven states that still have legal and operational greyhound tracks.
Wagering on dog races was legalized in Iowa in the mid-1980s, but attendance and wagering at Iowa’s two tracks have fallen since casino-style gambling was legalized on Iowa riverboats in 1991.
Last month, the Iowa Greyhound Association reported that total wagering at dog races was down by about a third during the Dubuque track’s first year under new ownership.
“The Iowa Greyhound Association is doing fewer races and I think they’ve struggled a little bit, but it’s really their ballgame now,” said Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, during a break at the committee meeting.
“I know they’ve had some bumps along the road, but I think they’re trying to work through those issues,” she added. “I’m not so sure the numbers are where they want them to be yet in terms of customers or people coming to place bets on the dogs.”