At about 12:30 this morning, the Iowa Senate approved a gambling bill after 47 days of wrangling. Lawmakers were forced into this debate after the state’s race tracks sued and won a lawsuit over taxes. The bill that cleared the Senate sets roughly equal tax rates for Iowa’s tracks and riverboat casinos. The biggest development yesterday, though, was that track managers said the state doesn’t have to pay the 128 million dollars in back taxes due the tracks because of that lawsuit. The tracks backed down after senators threatened to basically auction off the Prairie Meadows and Dubuque tracks to the highest bidder. Senate President Jeff Lamberti, a republican from Ankeny, was a chief architect of the deal. Lamberti says “negotiations are tough, and most times not particularly pretty.” Lamberti says Iowa taxpayers would have had to pay the tracks big bucks in back taxes if the deal hadn’t come together. Senator Matt McCoy, a democrat from Des Moines, says the threat of selling Prairie Meadows up to the highest bidder was a “huge hammer.” McCoy says it was “negotiate or die” for Prairie Meadows. But Senator Mike Connolly, a democrat from Dubuque, says it was a brilliant strategy. Connolly says he doesn’t “know who thought up this hand grenade to shake things loose,” but he says it “brought folks to the table in a hurry” — ready to strike a deal. The gambling bill that cleared the House February 26th forbid any new riverboats, but the Senate decided to leave the door open for expansion. Kim Miller, executive director of the Worth County Economic Development Authority, has been asking for a shot at a riverboat for Worth County, and she brought about 100 Worth County residents with her yesterday to lobby lawmakers. Miller says they’ve done “anything and everything” to get their message across. Senator Mark Zieman, a republican from Postville, says he fretted all night that the deal would unravel.Zieman says he hopes the House will be able to accept the Senate’s work, as Zieman says he tried very hard not to give House members “heartburn.” The bill will next be debated in the House, which must consider the changes approved this morning in the Senate. When the Senate approved the bill on a 39 to eight vote after about four hours of debate, a few senators and spectators applauded.
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