DRA officials readying for next grant cycle, with far more money to distribute

Dubuque Racing Association officials are gearing up for their next grant cycle with plans to distribute substantially more money and a focus on how they can grow the tri-state area.

DRA leaders plan to start accepting grant applications in May. As they ready to do so, they are considering tweaks to the program aimed at moving the community forward.

“We want to get the word out so that people know how to apply, where to apply, and I think what we’ll talk about later is that our area of focus is going to be growing the population of Dubuque,” said Alex Dixon, president and CEO of Q Casino, to members of the DRA Board of Directors on Tuesday.

The DRA is the nonprofit license holder for Dubuque’s two casinos.

Kathy Buhr, the DRA’s director of strategic philanthropy and Chaplain Schmitt Island development, told board members that officials are planning a grant kickoff reception on April 26, with initial grant applications open May 1 to 20.

The DRA awarded more than $1 million in grants for local charitable organizations in its 2021 grant cycle, and officials expect to distribute more than double that amount in 2022.

The DRA’s total distribution from 2021 totaled more than $12 million, with one-third going to the City of Dubuque, one-third to charities and one-third to Chaplain Schmitt Island improvements. Of the funds designated for charities, $1.2 million will go into the DRA’s endowment, and $2.8 million is expected to be distributed in grants, Buhr said.

Following the meeting, Buhr noted that officials are looking at making changes to the grant program to put a focus on population growth, retention of people in the community and tourism.

“We want the organization to start (doing) more capacity building,” she said. “… What can we do as an organization to take Dubuque to the next level and move Dubuque forward?”

Buhr said that additional focus still would allow the DRA to assist organizations that need help purchasing items, along with supporting areas such as education and health care efforts.

DRA officials will take applications in May for their “core grant” program, similar to DRA grants in prior years, covering smaller dollar amounts. Over the summer, the DRA will take a round of applications for larger grant requests.

Buhr and Dixon worked with Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, which reviewed the DRA grant program and made recommendations for it going forward. Those recommendations will go to the DRA’s grant committee for feedback and then to the full DRA board in April.

Officials plan to publicly release their criteria for strategic giving in 2022 at the kickoff reception next month, Buhr said.

Officials also shared financial figures for the month of February at Dubuque’s casinos.

Diamond Jo Casino reported gaming revenue of about $5.9 million last month, compared to a little more than $5 million in February 2021. Q Casino reported more than $4.1 million in gaming revenue in February, compared to about $3.6 million in February 2021.

“It has been a really good start of the year, and we’re really excited about this year,” said Brian Rakestraw, Q Casino vice president and general manager.