DES MOINES - The CEOs of two nonprofit casinos in Iowa both make more than $650,000 a year because their boards believe competitive pay is needed to keep the executives in Dubuque and Altoona.
Prairie Meadows CEO Gary Palmer made $652,747 in 2012 and Mystique Casino CEO Jesus Aviles received $708,899 that year, The Des Moines Register reported.
The 2012 figures are the most recent ones available, and both totals include six-figure bonuses that Palmer and Aviles received. Prairie Meadows board members are scheduled to vote on Palmer's 2013 bonus on Wednesday.
Casino supporters say these executives help raise millions of dollars in profits that go to Iowa nonprofit groups. But critics say the amount of money these CEOs receive reduces the amount that goes to nonprofits.
"Instead of fulfilling their promises to the community, Prairie Meadows chose to fill Gary Palmer's deep pockets," said Stacey Cargill, a West Des Moines resident who has campaigned against casino expansion. "The Prairie Meadows board has skewed priorities."
Both of the nonprofit casinos have cited studies about how much executives at comparable organizations make to justify how much they pay their CEOs.
Aviles' compensation grew by 38 percent between 2008 and 2012, and it remains higher than Palmer's pay even though Mystique's revenue is one-third that of Prairie Meadows. Palmer's compensation soared 62 percent during that time.
"We made a determination that we wanted to be competitive with the for-profit casinos so that we would get some of the top talent in the country to compete," said Michael Van Milligen, Dubuque's city manager who also serves on the Mystique Casino board.
Prairie Meadows officials say their auditor agrees that the casino's CEO pay falls within guidelines for executive salaries at nonprofits. Palmer said the compensation he receives is typical.
"In the casino business, that's just the way it is," Palmer said. "Every casino has bonuses, and that's how they pay their people. It's an initiative to work hard."
Information from: The Des Moines Register, www.desmoinesregister.com
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