ALTOONA, Iowa — An Altoona casino that distributes profits to central Iowa charities won’t say how much it spent sending about 40 board members, employees and spouses to a Las Vegas conference.
The Des Moines Register reported on Monday that Polk County Supervisor Bob Brownell is questioning the spending by the nonprofit Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in the Des Moines suburb of Altoona.
“These trips like this are always controversial because the public wonders what we’re getting out of it,” Brownell said. “You can make the obvious one-to-one argument that every dollar spent somewhere else would conceivably go to a nonprofit charity, and that’s what it’s supposed to be about.”
The September event was to the Global Gaming Expo, where equipment is sometimes purchased for a discount, and officials learn about new technology. The event attracts thousands of people who can attend dozens of workshops and stop by hundreds of exhibitor booths.
Although Iowa law defines a nonprofit casino as a government body that is subject to open records laws, casino attorney Tom Flynn said he think the casino board isn’t required to provide details about expenses. That’s because the organization doesn’t owe debt to taxpayers, making it not technically a government body, he said.
“We deem Prairie Meadows not to be a government body as defined by Iowa (law) because it distributes substantial monies to Polk County every year for the benefit of the taxpayers,” Flynn wrote in a statement.
Prairie Meadows also refused to say how many people involved with the organization attended the Las Vegas event, but Brownell estimated it at 40 people. Prairie Meadows later released the names of eight board members who attended but declined to identify guests who joined them.
Spouses were allowed to attend, and the casino covered some of their costs but not their airfare.
Des Moines-area attorney Mark Hedberg, a Prairie Meadows board member, said he attended the conference and spent most time in seminars.
“The bottom line is that I went, I learned a lot, and it wasn’t a party,” Hedberg said.