Prairie Meadows bets big on Iowa sports gambling
Prairie Meadows recently finished renovations and is ready to open the states first sports book once the Legislature approves it. The Des Moines Register
Some might call it a roll of the dice. But Prairie Meadows officials believe the odds of sports betting becoming legal in Iowa are in their favor.
The Altoona racetrack and casino has transformed a portion of its fourth-floor horse racing simulcast area into a Las Vegas-style sports book and bar, part of a larger $1.5 million renovation project.
Walls of televisions are ready to display games and betting odds for gamblers eager to place bets on professional or college games.
But before that can happen, Iowa lawmakers would have to legalize sports gambling in the state.
This week, lawmakers took some first steps. A Senate committee Thursday advanced a bill that would put Iowa casinos in charge of running sports betting operations. A similar House bill has moved out of subcommittee.
"It’s not presumptuous to say (Prairie Meadows' sports book could open) before July," said Brad Rhines, Prairie Meadows' senior vice president and chief strategic officer.
Prairie Meadows has been working on its plans since May, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban, opening the door for other states to join Nevada in allowing betting on sports.
The casino announced in January that it would partner with William Hill, the largest sports book operator in the United States, to run the casino's sports betting operation.
William Hill collaborated with casino officials to design the facility, which it will lease, Rhines said.
The first thing visitors taking the escalator to the casino's fourth floor will notice is an arena-style scoreboard hanging from the ceiling and rows of televisions. A digital ribbon board wraps around the perimeter of the wall, scrolling the latest sports news and scores.
"It should be bustling," Rhines said. "It will be a very immersive, interactive sports book feel."
Televisions displaying betting odds fill one wall above betting windows. Tables and chairs face another large wall filled with dozens of big-screen TVs that will broadcast games.
A bar area will serve food and drinks, including craft beer — a first for Prairie Meadows.
"You can come out and enjoy a game, whether you want to bet on it or not," Rhines said.
The casino plans to add self-service betting kiosks, said Polly Loneman, Prairie Meadows' director of marketing. And depending on what lawmakers approve, customers could place bets via mobile devices.
Prairie Meadows expects the sports book will draw a younger crowd than it typically sees, Rhines said.
Sports betting is "a 21-34, 21-44 age demographic," he said. "That will enable folks that might not typically come to a casino environment to come to Prairie Meadows."
A casino's average customer is in the 55-and-older age range now, he said.
Legislation being considered in the Iowa House and Senatewould legalize wagering on college and professional games at the state's 19 casinos, as well as online if Iowans visit a casino once to register. Betting on high school, minor league and amateur sports would be prohibited.
The legislation is seen as a win for the state's casinos, one of four industry groups vying to regulate sports betting in Iowa. The Iowa Lottery, horse racing industry and professional sports leagues were largely left out of the proposed legislation.
State Sen. Zach Nunn, R-Bondurant, said legislators are still considering a number of bills, but he expects sports betting will be approved by the end of the session.
His district includes Altoona, where Prairie Meadows is located.
"Iowa can be a leader," he said. "I don't want Iowa to have to follow in the wakes of states that are making policies that benefit their states."
If sports betting fails to pass, Prairie Meadows officials said the casino would use the space for horse racing simulcasts.
— Reporter Stephen Gruber-Miller contributed to this report.