ALTOONA — Were they betting people — and some sound like they are — experts wager sports gambling will be legal in many states, possibly including Iowa, in the near future.
The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that could open the door. Proposals to make sports wagering legal, pending that high court decision, have been introduced in 18 states including Iowa. Two states have passed the measures.
“Sports betting is coming. It’s going to be here,” said Will Green of the American Gaming Association. “It’s a matter of when, not if.”
Green’s organization has a vested interest in legal sports betting: The American Gaming Association lobbies on behalf of the gaming industry, including casinos that could host legalized sports wagering.
Green’s opinion was shared by other state and national experts who spoke this week at an event at Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel in Altoona. The event, which featured a keynote address from a national professional sports expert and multiple panel discussions, was hosted by the Drake University Law School.
Legal sports betting may be on the way regardless of the high court ruling, some experts said.
“It’s coming, whether it’s state by state or whether it’s some congressional act. Because there’s a societal move toward it, as there has been toward marijuana, as a good example,” said keynote speaker Andrew Brandt, who in the past was an agent for professional athletes and member of the Green Bay Packers front office. Brandt is now a columnist for the Sports Illustrated website and director of Villanova Law School’s sports law center.
“And I think people realize the revenues, most importantly. We have a huge illegal market,” Brandt added.
Americans illegally wager $150 billion on U.S. sports annually. Of the $4.7 billion wagered on the 2017 Super Bowl, for example, 97 percent was illegal, according to estimates from the American Gaming Association.
More than 2 in 5 adults said they would place at least one bet per year in a legal environment, according to a survey of 1,000 people in five states: Iowa, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arizona and California, conducted by The Innovation Group, which conducts market research for the gaming industry.
Currently, betting on sports is legal in Nevada and three other states, with limited exceptions. The pending Supreme Court ruling — expected this spring or summer — could clear the way for other states to legalize it.
Advocates say Americans are illegally gambling anyway, so it would be better to legalize, regulate and tax the activity.
“People understand this is happening, and having a well-regulated market is the way to do it,” said Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, who is guiding a proposal through the Iowa Legislature.
As the event moderator noted, the same argument — people are doing it anyway — has been made regarding other forms of gambling and marijuana use, and those things remain illegal in Iowa.
Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, said he thinks more education and a shift in attitudes make gambling possible in Iowa.
“A lot of education still has to take place for people to understand,” Ehrecke said. “We’re more optimistic on this because it was really a game-changer when the Supreme Court decided to hear the case.”
The proposed legislation in Iowa would place sports betting under the direction of the state’s casinos, and it would be regulated by the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission. Bettors could wager on professional and college athletics. Properties that wish to host sports betting would be required to pay a $25,000 license fee and a tax of 8 percent on sports betting revenue.
Legal sports betting would generate $80 million to $90 million in annual tax revenue for the state, according to The Innovation Group’s survey. While that is a significant amount of money, it would represent a relatively small drop in the state’s annual $7 billion-plus budget.
The proposed legislation also would legalize mobile sports betting. Highfill said without that provision to entice younger bettors, the proposal is “not worth it.”
Experts said sports gambling is not a huge money-maker for casinos. Slot machines and table games, for example, pay out over the long term at a mathematically consistent rate. But unexpected events and uncontrollable factors make sports gambling more volatile.
However, legal sports gambling likely would add foot traffic at Iowa casinos, attracting people who do not currently visit casinos.
Professional sports leagues in the past were vehemently opposed to the expansion of sports betting, but some leagues have evolved on the issue and are working with the gaming industry on proposed legislation in some states.
Two pro sports leagues have criticized the Iowa proposal for its lack of safeguards.
“We agree that time has come to give fans a safe and legal way to bet on sports. But any law authorizing betting must include rigorous protections to safeguard the integrity of our games,” Mike Bass, the NBA’s executive vice president of communications, said in a statement. “The bill rapidly advancing through the Iowa Legislature is deeply flawed and will not achieve that critical goal. It lacks the most basic requirements for strict regulation of sports betting.”
Major League Baseball issued a similar statement expressing its concerns.
“The legislation quickly advancing in Iowa would create incredibly weak and insufficient oversight of sports betting, and would not sufficiently mitigate the potential risks to our game that will emerge from legalized sports betting,” the MLB statement said. “The steps for strong regulation have been studied and proven to be effective for years in betting markets overseas, but this bill does not even come close to mandating the necessary precautions.”
The sports leagues have pushed for provisions allowing them to veto specific forms of wagering and a so-called integrity fee they say is needed to insure themselves against a potential betting scandal that could hurt the leagues.
Highfill called the integrity fee a “nonstarter” in Iowa and criticized the pro sports leagues, which make billions of dollars in revenue, for asking for more money in the gambling proposals.
Highfill said the Iowa proposal has more bipartisan support than any gambling bill he has worked on during his six years in the Legislature. On the official state list of registered lobbyists, the casinos support the bill and the NBA and MLB are joined by the Iowa Catholic Conference and Iowa Behavioral Health Association in opposition.
An international trade war would be a “rolling disaster” for Iowa, two economists and an international business expert say.
“Iowa is a net loser in terms of any trade skirmishes, trade wars, abolition of NAFTA that are brought on by this tariff increase,” said economist Ernie Goss of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
President Donald Trump called last week for a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent duty on aluminum imported into the United States. The proposal has drawn rebukes from members of his own party, and other countries say they’ll retaliate with tariffs on U.S.-made goods.
Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, resigned after failing to persuade the president not to push forward. U.S. financial markets reacted nervously in recent days. The Dow ended Wednesday down another 83 points.
A trade war would mean price increases for consumers, possible layoffs for workers and a loss of export markets for Iowa.
“Trust me, nobody wins in a trade war. The consumers are the ones that will pay the price,” said Dimy Doresca, director of the Institute for International Business at the University of Iowa.
Corn, soybeans, pork and eggs could be targeted for retribution, said Dermot Hayes, an Iowa State University economist. The state relies heavily on international markets to sell those goods.
“In Iowa, we have about 10 crop acres for every person. The world average is about one-half of one acre,” Hayes said. “We’re way out on the limb in terms of our specialization in agriculture and our need to export those products.”
Iowa would be vulnerable in a trade battle because of its reliance on exports and because food and agriculture are typically the “first casualties” in such skirmishes, Creighton’s Goss said.
Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of corn, producing about 2.6 billion bushels in 2017 and 2.7 billion in 2016. The state’s top export in 2017 was corn.
While steel or aluminum producers in the state would benefit from Trump’s tariffs, any company that uses imported metals would be hurt, Hayes and Goss said.
“If you take John Deere and assume that they were buying some of their steel from abroad, which I think is the case, then they would face a competitive (disadvantage) against those other tractor makers who were not paying those duties,” Hayes said.
While price increases for products may be the first noticeable effect of a trade war, longer-term repercussions would be more consequential.
“There are producers out there that stand ready to replace the U.S., whether it’s corn, whether it’s soybeans, whether it’s wheat, whether it’s processed food. They stand ready to replace us almost instantaneously,” Goss said.
He pointed to Brazil and Argentina as possible replacements.
Doresca said retaliation from other countries would be the worst effect.
“Iowa has been doing really well by itself. But now, you have a federal government who is not cooperating, who is making things more difficult for us,” he said.
The European Union already has discussed products it could go after in retribution. The proposed list would target $3.5 billion in imports including motorcycles, bourbon and corn, the Washington Post and Bloomberg reported.
“The fact that we voted for Trump is now coming back to haunt us, because the retaliation lists are looking for places that voted for him,” Hayes said.
China is one country that would be hit by tariffs. Former Gov. Terry Branstad, now U.S. ambassador in Beijing, hasn’t issued a statement on the matter, China Daily noted in an article on its website.
Iowa’s full congressional delegation sent a letter to Trump Wednesday asking him to reconsider the tariff proposal.
“We are concerned such a move could set into motion a chain of retaliatory measures, hurting Iowans from the family farm to the family-owned manufacturing plant. Tariffs are a tax on families and hardworking Iowans cannot afford a trade war,” the letter reads.
Gov. Kim Reynolds already has warned “unintended consequences” of the tariffs would be “devastating” for the state.
“Our farmers are the first target, and we know that’s where the unintended consequences will fall — is on our farmers and on our manufacturers,” Reynolds said Monday.
Despite concerns from his own party, Trump has doubled down on calls for the tariffs.
The president said during a news conference Tuesday “when we’re behind on every single country, trade wars aren’t so bad.” He also said the tariffs would be imposed “in a very loving way.”
The tariff proposal also comes as the United States renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, two key trading partners for Iowa. The two countries accounted for 47.5 percent, or about $6.3 billion, of Iowa’s exports last year.
Trump has tied the tariffs and the NAFTA negotiations together, tweeting Monday “Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed.”
The White House said Wednesday the tariffs may include exceptions for Canada and Mexico. Trump could sign a proclamation as soon as today that would make the tariffs official, according to national news reports.
Asked how Iowa could push back against Trump’s tough trade talk, Goss, Hayes and Doresca said top legislative leaders need to make the state’s case to the president.
“Iowa really has a great relationship with the president. I think we need our governor, our former governor, our senators, they need to talk to the president and explain to the president what’s going on is really hurting Iowa,” Doresca said.
Iowa also needs to seek additional foreign markets for its goods.
“Iowa needs to continue functioning in the way we’ve been doing in taking trade missions overseas, continue nourishing the good relationships we have with other countries as a state and also develop new partnerships with countries in Africa and Latin America,” Doresca said.
DES MOINES — All schools in Iowa would be required to have emergency plans for active shooter situations and natural disasters by June 30, 2019, under legislation approved unanimously late Tuesday in the Senate.
School officials would be required to consult with law enforcement and emergency management agencies to develop protocols. The plans would be confidential and exempt from the state’s open records law, said Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, the bill’s floor manager.
“This will help ensure that our schools are prepared for the worst and have good practices in place to keep our children safe,” Kraayenbrink said. “While we hope these plans never have to be used, it is essential that our schools have emergency operation plans developed in preparation for the worst-case scenario.”
According to the Iowa Department of Education, 88 percent of Iowa school districts have security plans in place, but less than 10 percent have high-quality plans with “walk-through” drills for school personnel, Kraayenbrink said. The security requirement was being drafted before last month’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 people were killed.
Kraayenbrink said the Senate Education Committee decided the safety of Iowa children needed to be prioritized by having schools adopt security plans. On Tuesday, senators amended Senate File 2364 to include state-accredited non-public schools.
Other provisions of the bill, which passed 50-0 and now heads to the Iowa House, require school personnel know the procedures for reporting potential threats to law enforcement and undergo training once a year on plans that are reviewed and updated annually.
Kraayenbrink noted school security plans will not be subject to open records requests because the safety of children would be enhanced if the information is not publicly known.
“In the case of an active shooter, we do not want the shooter knowing the protocol for the movements and lockdown procedures of our children,” he said.
DES MOINES — Three Northeast Iowans will be honored March 28 by the Iowa Region of the American Red Cross with 2018 “Heroes of the Heartland” awards.
Heroism awards will go to Jeff Jones of Cedar Falls, Todd Joslin of Dike and Hoss Tompkins of Beaman, all for acts of heroism performed in 2017.
The Heroes of the Heartland breakfast will be held at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. The event is the region’s major fundraiser for the Red Cross.