As I am sure most of you are aware, on Tuesday, May 13, Governor Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation that unless otherwise specified, all casinos in the state of Iowa would remain closed through May 27 as part of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Under the same proclamation, racetracks were granted a special dispensation to resume racing as soon as May 15, provided all operations were conducted without the presence of fans and under strict health protocols to help contain the spread of the virus.
The next day, May 14, Prairie Meadows called a special board meeting to discuss the Governor’s proclamation. I was able to listen in on the board meeting and was also given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the IQHRA.
I asked the Prairie Meadows Board to realize the Governor’s proclamation was two-fold. One, she gave us permission to race without fans but in order to do that we need to get the backside open as soon as possible so horses from around the country, who are in need of a track to go to could begin moving to Prairie Meadows.
I explained even if they were not going to approve racing in the immediate future, we needed to open the backside so horses could train, get their mandatory works and be ready to race when it was permitted.
I also explained by not opening the backside now, we were going to lose a lot of horses to other tracks who we might not get back when we do open. Others also spoke, some in favor of the Governor’s proclamation and some opposed.
When public comments were ended the only other person allowed to speak before the Board’s vote was Gary Palmer (Prairie Meadow’s President and CEO). Mr. Palmer asked the board to not allow the backside to open. “At Prairie Meadows, we care deeply about the health and well-being of our family of employees, our guests, the horsemen, and our community”, said Gary Palmer. “This is a position in which we have been steadfast since deciding to close our full operation before any other casino in our state”. He further stated “as we continue our vigilant work on preparing our property for its eventual reopening, I’m reminded just how committed our team is in overcoming this horrible pandemic. While there is no playbook for this challenge, I am confident that our men and women at Prairie Meadows will rise above it and soon welcome back our employees, guests, horsemen, and community safely.”
Today, May 15, at 2:00 pm, Dave McShane (HBPA President) and I had a phone call discussion with Gary Palmer, the Prairie Meadows’ Racing staff, and a few other staff from Prairie Meadows.
During our discussion Prairie Meadows said it was their hope to have the casino open by June 15 to July 1. They also said they are planning on opening the backside three weeks prior to the casino opening. That said, I will be in discussions with the racing office beginning next week to modify this year’s racing schedule.
We will need to determine how much purse money to take from this year’s meet, to save for next year’s meet because of the loss of Prairie Meadows revenue this year. Purse money for next year’s meet comes from this year’s Prairie Meadows revenue. Any changes will need to be approved by the IQHRA Board of Directors as well as the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission and HBPA.
Until then, just know we are working hard to get the backside open as soon as possible, to get a new condition book finalized and to begin racing. If you hear anything else from anyone that is different from the information I have just given you, feel free to call me as it is most likely just a rumor! Let’s all hope for the best!