Prairie Meadows was born out of the hard times Iowa’s agricultural economy experienced in the early 1980s. During this economic downturn, several local businessmen had envisioned a business that would create jobs, promote economic development, boost Iowa’s agriculture, and grow tourism in central Iowa. In response to the entertainment dollars Iowans were sending out of state to the AKSARBEN track in Omaha, the group didn’t see why central Iowa couldn’t provide its own track and keep those dollars working for our economy.
In July 1984,
After lobbying the local state legislature, the Iowa Racing Commission issued the state’s first pari-mutuel license to allow construction of a horse track. For the location of their new venture, a 243-acre site of pastureland adjacent to Adventureland Amusement Park in eastern Polk County was selected.
After a few years, the Polk County Board of Supervisors voted to back the $40 million in bonds that were necessary to build the track. Then on March 1, 1989, live horse racing officially opened at Prairie Meadows with cold temps, flurries, and fogged-over windows that made for less-than ideal conditions for the inaugural day spectators.
Unfortunately, the revenues at the track over the next few years were not sufficient enough to keep it operational, especially with the growth of riverboat casino gaming attracting more of Iowans’ entertainment dollars. Eventually, backers of casino gaming at Iowa’s pari-mutuel facilities would work to help pass a bill in the state legislature—and in 1994, the bill was approved by one vote and signed into law by Governor Terry Branstad.
In May 1994,
Polk County voters approved the county referendum with 62 percent in favor of adding slots at Prairie Meadows. Early on, it was decided that Prairie Meadows should be managed locally by an unpaid board of directors who lived and worked here in central Iowa. This decision would result in hundreds of millions of dollars of profits remaining in Iowa and the local community rather than leaving the state through the day-to-day operations of an outside management firm.
On April 1, 1995,
A capacity crowd of 15,000 poured through the doors of the nation’s first combination horse track and slot machine casino. The addition of slots were met with such unprecedented success that Prairie Meadows was able to repay nearly $90 million of its debt to Polk County in the first 18 months.
A lot of jackpots have been paid out, but the real winners have been the residents of central Iowa. While Prairie Meadows’ unorthodox but highly successful public/private partnership has faced a lot of challenges, it has always been able to reward Polk County’s support through taxes, grants and charitable donations to better the community.
It’s incredible to consider what we’ve been able to accomplish in little more than 25 years. Today guests can be entertained at a beautiful facility that offers a 168-room hotel, state-of-the-art guest amenities, a 2,000 slot machine casino, table games, live and simulcast horse racing, concerts, restaurants and lounges, and a guest service program that is second to none
But more importantly, our non-profit status has enabled us to give back more than $1.4 billion through taxes, grants and charitable donations to the state of Iowa and to thousands of worthwhile charitable organizations that do so much for our communities. In fact, more than $500 million has remained right here in central Iowa. And over the course of nearly three decades, Prairie Meadows has remained a catalyst for jobs, economic development, agriculture and tourism.
Reflecting on where we began and how far we’ve come, you can see that Prairie Meadows’ success continues to be a story of how volunteers, business leaders, elected officials and dedicated employees came together to make us one of the great public/private business experiments in the entertainment industry.