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The Elbert Files: Killing a golden goose


“They finally did it,” my old friend K.C. said when I caught up with him on the Grand Avenue bridge over Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

“Did what?” I asked. “Passed a reapportionment plan? 

“They certainly did that,” I continued. “But I still don’t understand why the Legislature passed the second plan but not the first.” 

“It was all about gamesmanship,” K.C. replied. 

“I can make a case that the first reapportionment plan was actually more favorable to Republicans than the second,” he added.

“But Republicans voted down the first plan without even debating it,” I said.

“Exactly,” K.C. said. “It didn’t matter what the first plan did, they were going to vote it down just to show who’s in control. 

“But once they did that and saw that the second plan was no better than the first, and in some ways worse, they had the good sense to realize that a third plan might be worse yet.

“They knew they were already skating on thin ice because the one thing Iowans prize is a sense of fairness, and they knew that if they went to a third plan and then amended it to create true Republican advantages, it might well backfire on them at a time when they are already in good shape.

“In the long run, they are better off taking the second plan, even if it does put Congresswoman Marionette Miller Meeks in a difficult position.

“But that’s not what I meant when I said, ‘They finally did it.’”

“Well,” I replied, “what did you mean?”

“Gambling,” he said. “They’re finally going to kill the goose that lays golden eggs.”

“What are you talking about?” I said. 

“Prairie Meadows,” K.C. said. “That casino is the engine that’s driven a good share of development in Des Moines for three decades.

“Without financial underwriting from Prairie Meadows, there are a lot of projects that never would have gotten off the ground or never have been accomplished to the degree they were,” he said. 

“Much of what’s occurred downtown has been helped in one way or another with grants from Prairie Meadows. 

“I know some people don’t approve of gambling and have opposed the racetrack and casino at Prairie Meadows from the beginning,” he continued. “But it’s been one of the most successful community-based gaming operations anywhere in the country. Like it or not, Prairie Meadows has added a lot of value to Des Moines that could not have happened any other way.

“And now they are going to kill it, or at least severely cripple that operation,” K.C. said.

“How so?” I asked. 

“Online sports betting,” he replied. “It’s just starting to take off but already it’s eating into the gambling profits that Prairie Meadows uses to support community projects. 

“There’s a simple solution,” he continued. “The state could require that all online sports wagering be conducted under the umbrella of state-licensed casinos, like Prairie Meadows. That would at least bring some of the profits back into the community. Other states have done that.

“But for whatever reason, our genius legislators decided not to do that.

“When it comes to gambling,” he said, “there is always a lot of money to grease a lot of palms.

“At this point, they’ve even greased the local media,” K.C. continued. “Earlier this year, Tipico, one of the top online sports bookmakers, announced a partnership with Gannett, which owns newspapers all over the country, including the Des Moines Register.

“Tipico’s betting lines started showing up in Register football stories in September,” K.C. said as he turned and headed downtown. 

“It’s really quite diabolical the way online gambling is robbing Prairie Meadows of the profits it has used to prop up nonprofits and Polk County.

“Kim Reynolds doesn’t like Polk County or other urban centers, because they are Democratic strongholds.”

“Do you really think Reynolds is that devious?”

“No, but the results are the same, whether they planned it or not.” 

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