Fitzgerald v. Racing Association of Central Iowa, 539 U.S. 103, 3 (2003)

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Cite as: 539 U. S. 103 (2003)

Opinion of the Court

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.

Iowa taxes adjusted revenues from slot machines on excursion riverboats at a maximum rate of 20 percent. Iowa Code 99F.11 (2003). Iowa law provides for a maximum tax rate of 36 percent on adjusted revenues from slot machines at racetracks. 99F.4A(6), 99F.11. The Iowa Supreme Court held that this 20 percent/36 percent difference in tax rates violates the Federal Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, Amdt. 14, 1. 648 N. W. 2d 555 (2002). We disagree and reverse the Iowa Supreme Court's determination.


Before 1989, Iowa permitted only one form of gambling— parimutuel betting at racetracks—the proceeds of which it taxed at a six percent rate. Iowa Code 99D.15 (1984). In 1989, it authorized other forms of gambling, including slot machines and other gambling games on riverboats, though it limited bets to $5 and losses to $200 per excursion. 1989 Iowa Acts ch. 67, 3, 9(2); Iowa Code 99F.3 (1996). Iowa taxed adjusted revenues from slot machine gambling at graduated rates, with a top rate of 20 percent. 1989 Iowa Acts ch. 67, 11; Iowa Code 99F.11 (1996).

In 1994, Iowa enacted a law that, among other things, removed the riverboat gambling $5/$200 bet/loss limits, 1994 Iowa Acts ch. 1021, 19, authorized racetracks to operate slot machines, 13; Iowa Code 99F.1(9), 99F.4A (1996), and imposed a graduated tax upon racetrack slot machine adjusted revenues with a top rate that started at 20 percent and would automatically rise over time to 36 percent, 1994 Iowa Acts ch. 1021, 25; Iowa Code 99F.11 (1996). The Act did not alter the tax rate on riverboat slot machine adjusted revenues, thereby leaving the existing 20 percent rate in place. Ibid.

Respondents, a group of racetracks and an association of dog owners, brought this lawsuit in state court challenging the 1994 legislation on the ground that the 20 percent/36 per-


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