ALTOONA, Iowa — Doing business with Prairie Meadows Race Track and Casino can be like hitting the jackpot. Millions of dollars in contracts are awarded every year. But those contracts come under close scrutiny. All contracts over $100,000 must be approved by the Prairie Meadows Board of Directors and all contracts that might represent a conflict of interest with a “related party” must be approved by the Iowa’s governing gaming body, The Racing and Gaming Commission.
“We look at related party transactions because we’re obviously concerned is there something more to it,” says Jeff Lamberti, the Chairman of the Racing and Gaming Commission.
In the last year, Lamberti and other Commission members have approved two related party transactions for Prairie Meadows.
The first, for Frank Berlin and Associates for insurance brokerage services. The value of the transaction was originally $600,000, then jumped to $1-million after the bid was accepted. The related party was Kyle Mertz, the son-in-law of Gary Palmer, the Chief Executive Officer of Prairie Meadows. According to his LinkedIn profile, Mertz is a partner with Frank Berlin.
The second “related party” transaction was for $150,000 for website design and marketing. That contract went to the Maclyn Group, based in Chicago. The related party – Bill Murphy, also Palmer’s son-in-law. Murphy is a co-owner and partner in the Maclyn Group.
“If there was a conflict that the board at Prairie Meadows didn’t like, it was up to them to raise that,” says Lamberti.
The Chairman of Prairie Meadow’s Executive Committee, Robert Meyer says he “didn’t see it as an issue at the time.” Meyer also couldn’t recall why Prairie Meadows opted for an Illinois company for its website design and marketing when Prairie Meadows own purchasing philosophy states it “will attempt at all times to purchase first from local area companies, second from companies located within the balance of the State of Iowa.”
Gary Palmer declined to comment.