In 1984, Prairie Meadows received a license from the Iowa Racing and Gaming commission to operate a horse racing facility after parimutuel betting was legalized by the state. In 1987, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for Prairie Meadows.
Prairie Meadows conducted its first day of racing on March 1, 1989. However, the track lost money during its first few years of operation and filed for bankruptcy in 1991. Live racing was suspended for the 1992 season before revenues from off-track betting allowed racing to resume the following year.
On May 17, 1994, Polk County voters approved a referendum allowing the installation of slot machines at Prairie Meadows. On April 1, 1995, the slot machine casino opened at Prairie Meadows, and by the end of 1996, Prairie Meadows was able to pay off the bonds that were issued by the Polk County Board of Supervisors.
On December 14, 2004, Prairie Meadows added casino game tables after receiving state approval to do so. As a result of the high demand for these tables, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission approved Prairie Meadows' plans to expand its facility on January 25, 2005. Construction on the $60 million expansion began in September 2005. An addition to the casino opened in August 2006, while two new restaurants and a 1,200-seat concert hall known as "The Meadows" opened in February 2007.
Prairie Meadows is owned by Polk County and operated by the non-profit Racing Association of Central Iowa, a 13-member board of Polk County residents. The revenues generated by Prairie Meadows are given to various community projects in the Des Moines area, including construction of the Iowa Events Center complex in downtown Des Moines.
Prairie Meadows runs many stakes and handicaps during its April to October season. The April to July season is all thoroughbred and the July to October season is mixed thoroughbreds and quarter horses. The track runs two graded stakes races during the thoroughbred season. They are: