Greyhound racing in Iowa still working to create self-sustainability

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- A greyhound racing park in Dubuque was opened in 1985 but in recent years, the Iowa Greyhound Park has struggled to break even.

When the greyhound racetrack opened more than 30 years ago, formerly known as the Dubuque Greyhound Park, the racetrack brought in more than $41 million. Fast forward to 2017, that number has shrunk to just more than $7 million.

The Iowa Greyhound Association is a non-profit group that runs the only greyhound racetrack left in the entire state.

It receives about $10 million per year from in-state casinos to keep the track open, $1 million of that coming directly from Q Casino in Dubuque. The other $9.2 million comes from Bluffs Run at Horseshoe Council Bluffs. Half of that money goes directly towards racing operations, maintenance, etc. The other half goes to greyhound owners and trainers.

However, because of state legislation from 2014, Q Casino will only make payments until 2021. Bluffs Run will only make payments through 2022- meaning that money goes away in four years and the racetrack will need to find ways to fund itself.

"Obviously, competing against slot machines is not the easiest in the world," said Brian Carpenter, General Manager and Director of Racing for the Iowa Greyhound Park. "But we are doing what we can to keep us running and figure out different options, looking at different options to keep better handle- our handles have increased. We've changed outpost times this year."

Carpenter said total bets do not equal revenue, due to payments to dog owners or on payouts to winners, so it is hard to equate exactly how much revenue the racetrack is making. The term in the industry used is called "handle," defined as money changing hands from bettors.

One of the differences in recent years the track has made is live-streaming their races to other states, allowing for people outside of Iowa to bet on the races digitally.

Just this year, it has already seen an increase in the month of May by $100,000. But those with the Iowa Greyhound Association are tasked with figuring out more solutions to make the track profitable overall.

"One, we changed post times to try and help the lot, the simulcast wagering increase, there's talk about shortening the season," Carpenter said. "At this time we're just talking about stuff, there is no set idea. Right now we've just been trying different stuff each year and hopefully, something will come up and work for us."

Carpenter said while they continue to research ideas and remain optimistic, things may only be getting more difficult.

The space occupied by the racetrack is technically owned by the City of Dubuque. It charges the Iowa Greyhound Association a lease of only $1 per year, a common lease agreement for non-profits, but that lease ends at the end of the 2019 season. At that point, the lease will need re-negotiation.