The Dubuque Racing Association Board of Directors on Tuesday approved about $410,000 in grant funding to local nonprofits, providing an important — albeit delayed — shot in the arm for charitable organizations as they try to emerge from the shadow of the pandemic.
During a virtual meeting, board members green-lighted the allocation of $409,918 to 72 area charities. The awards ranged from $670 to $10,000.
The association is the nonprofit license holder for both Dubuque casinos, and the annual grant allocation marks the fulfillment of an important part of the organization’s mission.
Over the past 10 months, however, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent impacts on Dubuque casinos created doubt over when nonprofits would see these grants or whether the funds would be distributed.
Grants are typically awarded in May, but DRA officials voted to significantly delay the allocation because of COVID-19. At the time, officials pledged that the organization ultimately would distribute $1 million to nonprofits.
The organization reached that goal Tuesday, despite taking a circuitous route to get there.
“It is a very exciting moment for us,” said DRA Director of Grants Kathy Young. “We feel it is important to give back to the community and to hit that $1 million mark.”
The grants effectively marked the second part of an unorthodox, two-part donation from the DRA.
In the fall of 2020, the DRA decided that $590,000 that is traditionally allocated to the DRA’s endowment fund instead would be distributed to entities that have experienced losses due to the coronavirus.
“I feel it was the right mix,” Young said. “We were able to meet the immediate needs of organizations in town (with the $590,000). But we won’t be stuck in the pandemic forever, and the $410,000 in grants will help organizations move forward.”
Young noted the DRA plans to distribute additional funds in 2021. She said the board will discuss the specific timing of grant allocations, which are normally distributed in May, during its April meeting.
AN IMPORTANT BOOST
Creative Adventure Lab was among the dozens of organizations that learned Tuesday about funding from the DRA.
The nonprofit’s executive director, Jordan DeGree, said the DRA’s $10,000 grant will help the nonprofit expand its innovation center concept to rural areas, with the funds specifically supporting the creation of a center in Dyersville.
Such innovation centers support the launch of new businesses and the expansion of existing ones. DeGree framed this kind of business support system as a “basic need” in rural areas, which can suffer without strong economies.
“Without entrepreneurship and business growth, these rural communities decline,” he said. “And because of that decline, they can lose things like schools, health services and tax revenues.”
Miracle League of Dubuque, a venue that allows children and adults of all abilities a chance to play ball, learned it will receive a $5,000 grant to support the installation of a new sound system.
Board President Merle Santjer said the system is slated for installation in the spring.
“When a player comes up to bat, we’ll have an announcer who says the name of the individual and a little bit about their background,” Santjer explained. “We think that will create a special experience for the players and for their family members who come to see them play.”
The DRA’s grant allocations came on the heels of a difficult year.
Concerns about the virus prompted the outright closure of both Dubuque casinos from mid-March through the end of May. In the seven months that followed, the casino still adhered to social-distancing protocols and mask-wearing requirements.
Gross gaming revenue at Q Casino was $37.7 million in 2020, according to General Manager Brian Rakestraw. That represented a decrease of 24.3% compared to the previous year. Diamond Jo saw gaming revenues fall 28.7% to $50.5 million in 2020.
The dip in attendance was even more pronounced. Q Casino reported attendance of just more than 472,000 in 2020, a decline of 42% compared to 2019. Diamond Jo recorded attendance of 518,239 in 2020, nearly 45% lower than the prior year.
As the year came to a close, COVID-19 continued to have a major impact.
“December was another challenging month,” Rakestraw said. “The Dubuque market saw a decrease of 16.2% in gaming revenues compared to December 2019 … and attendance in the Dubuque market was down 44.7% in December.”
Outgoing DRA Board Chairman Gary Dolphin reflected on the difficulties of the past year but indicated optimism for what could lie ahead.
“Going from a building economy to a pandemic, I don’t think that was in anybody’s crystal ball,” he said. “(This year) is already looking brighter and certainly more promising.”