City-owned casino a boon for Dubuque

Davenport officials don’t have to look far to find a model for a city-owned casino. Since 1986, the city of Dubuque, Iowa, has owned the Mystique Casino — and Davenport leaders hope to take a page from Dubuque’s playbook.

The Mystique Casino is run by the Dubuque Racing Association, or the DRA. The DRA is a not-for-profit which pays the city a fee to operate the casino, much like the association Davenport leaders have proposed. At the end of the year, the casino’s profits go back to the city and community charities for capital improvements, grants and economic development projects.

“Since this organization was founded in 1985, it has given back to the community and charities $630 million. Not a whole lot of not-for-profit organizations, other than the big ones, can boast that kind of contribution,” said DRA President and CEO Jesus Aviles.

Davenport leaders also pointed to benefits like Dubuque’s tax rate, which, aided by casino revenues, is $6 lower than Davenport’s. Aviles credits the DRA-run casino with helping the city survive the farm crisis of the mid-1980s, when Dubuque’s unemployment topped 20 percent.

“You could see billboards that said, ‘Last one out of Dubuque, turn out the lights.’ And although we have not been the answer to all the community’s needs and problems, we did our part in creating a steady stream of revenue that could be used to bring all that progress to town,” said Aviles.

It’s progress that Davenport leaders hope to mirror just down the river.

“The model has definitely worked for Dubuque. Every community has their own idiosyncrasies, and they have to decide what is best for them, but it has been a blessing for Dubuque,” said Aviles.

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