Polk County, Iowa, voters have approved a ballot measure on casino gambling that could help bail out the bankrupt, bond-financed Prairie Meadows racetrack.

A 57% majority last week approved the measure to allow riverboat casino gambling in the county. The taxpayers group that worked to put the issue on the ballot views its passage as the first step toward permitting casino gambling on the site of the racetrack, which was financed with proceeds from $40 million of revenue bonds.

Gary Palmer, leader of the group, which is called Prairie Meadows Open in 1993, said he intends to lobby for a law during the Iowa legislative session beginning in January that would allow land-based as well as riverboat casino gambling in the country. If such a law passes, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission would have to approve a license for the casino at Prairie Meadows, Palmer said.

Iowa law currently allows casino gambling, but only on riverboats.

Mick Lura, executive director of the gaming commission, said "there was no doubt" that a casino at Prairie Meadows would create enough revenue to help pay the racetrack's $3.9 million annual debt service payments.

However, a group of ministers who oppose the measure are not convinced that a casino would generate the funds needed to pay off the bonds. The group intends to lobby against allowing a casino at the racetrack, according to the Rev. Carlos Jayne of the United Methodist Church in Des Moines.

The racetrack filed for bankruptcy last year.

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