Des Moines Airport Casino And Hotel Proposal Likely Dead

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A proposed $225 million hotel and casino bid to be built on the grounds of the Des Moines International Airport to help funding towards an expansion of the terminal faces appears to be dead after failing to generate a motion to move forward.

The Des Moines Airport Authority did not outright reject the Highview Development Group’s proposal to build a 350-room hotel and casino on-site Tuesday, but the board cited “significant hurdles” the group must overcome in order to move the proposal — led by local businessman Reggie Sinha — forward. Wild Rose Entertainment, which runs casinos in Clinton, Emmetsburg, and Jefferson, was linked to the bid without any formal attachment.

“The biggest thing was that the proposal was not turned down,” said Kayla Kovarna, the Marketing and Business Develop Manager for the Des Moines Airport Authority. “They didn’t reject the plan, there was no specific motion for or against the proposal. There are too many ‘what ifs’ at this point for the board to move forward.”

Prairie Meadows proves formidable road block

The primary obstacle the Highview Development Group’s bid faces is a revenue-sharing agreement between Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack, and Hotel — Iowa’s biggest gaming tax revenue producer based in nearby Altoona, right on the edge of Des Moines — Polk County, and the city. Kovarna explained the casino and the city have an agreement to “actively oppose any casino within city limits,” and that agreement provides profit-sharing funds from Prairie Meadows and Polk County, which then distributes the portion given to Des Moines.

According to a Feburary 2019 press release from Polk County, the city received nearly $6.7 million from the agreement last year.

Prairie Meadows has generated more than $26.5 million in combined tax revenue in Fiscal Year 2020 through gaming and sports wagering revenue, the most of the state’s 19 casinos on a combined $216.1 million in adjusted gross revenue. The Highview Development Group’s proposal was the only one received by the Des Moines Airport Authority as it looks to make up a $200 million funding shortfall for the estimated $500 million cost to update and expand the airport terminal, which has been used since its opening in 1948.

Sinha was not surprised by the opposition given the agreement but remains optimistic his group will find a way to move forward, noting, “My hope is that the authority would take the best decision for the airport. The airport has independent powers to make the decision. Unfortunately, they are being guided by the city and that agreement.”

Sinha contended the airport authority has the authorization under Iowa state law to make a deal, claiming that as “an arm of the state, it supersedes the municipality and the county, and they have been given the power specifically.”

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Chris Altruda

Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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