Dubuque looks to break from "death spiral" of greyhound racing - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque looks to break from "death spiral" of greyhound racing

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

The City of Dubuque is looking to eliminate greyhound racing from Mystique Casino, something leaders are calling a "death spiral."

Greyhound racing hasn't been profitable for the city since the early 1990s, but a gag order with the Greyhound Association has kept leaders from talking about it until the agreement expired this year.

For the first time, the Dubuque City Council can include on its legislative priorities list a request for action on the Iowa law that's keeping the "death spiral" from going away.

"There's a state law which says that for the Mystique Casino, to have a gaming license, that they need to offer greyhound racing," Dubuque city manager Mike Van Milligen said. "As the city and as the Dubuque Racing Association, we would like the state legislature and then the governor to sign a law which eliminates that requirement to maintain greyhound racing."

It's important to note Dubuque's Mystique Casino is operated in a rather unique fashion.

The City of Dubuque owns Mystique Casino, known prior to 2009 as the Dubuque Greyhound Park & Casino. Mystique Casino includes the greyhound racing track.

Not-for-profit organization the Dubuque Racing Association contracts with the city to operate Mystique. At the end of every year, it gives half of its profits to the City of Dubuque for capital improvement projects, and the other half to area charities and nonprofit organizations.

Greyhound racing, however, has not only been unprofitable for some 20 years, but it also is costing the DRA money to operate.

Net income at the track peaked at nearly $2.75 million per year in the late 1980s, but dipped into the red in 1992 and has never been profitable since.

Mystique Casino's president and CEO Jesús Avilés said a mandate established in the mid-1990s requires the casino to supplement the greyhound racing track's purse. Today, that means the DRA is paying some $4.5 million, annually, to operate the dog track.

"If we had this money that we're subsidizing the greyhound with, that money will go to the charities, to the city or to other capital improvement that we could do within our own facility to keep it viable," Avilés said.

He said greyhound racing's decline in popularity follows a rather logical course from its Dubuque introduction in the mid 1980s.

"In 1991, five new tracks opened in Wisconsin. There was a track in Waterloo, so you started seeing the pieces of the pie being diluted," Avilés said. "1992-1993, there (were) casinos approved in Iowa, and people started getting more choices and they did other things."

Neither he nor Van Milligen, however, failed to mention the vital role greyhound racing played in helping to save Dubuque's tanking economy when it came to town in the mid-80s.

"It was a boom and it was a wonderful thing for the community, but here, 30 years later, in fact, greyhound racing is not a competitive entertainment option for people, and so it loses a significant amount of money each year," Van Milligen said.

Greyhound breeding and racing have also created many area jobs, and some people are concerned what closing Dubuque's track would do to their livelihood.

Dubuque's leaders, however, are far from seeing any changes. They just want to get the conversation started in the state legislature this year.

Mystique's greyhound racing track is open April through October and is just one of two left in Iowa. The other is in Council Bluffs.

Nationwide, there are 21 remaining tracks, down from the sport's height in the late '80s and early '90s.

City leaders will present this and their other legislative priorities to local state legislators Tuesday evening at Dubuque's annual legislative dinner meeting.

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