DES MOINES — It’s unlikely fantasy sports betting will be legal in Iowa before this year’s NCAA men’s basketball championship, but an Iowa lawmaker is looking ahead to next year.

A bill to legalize fantasy sports betting cleared the House Ways and Means Committee 23-2 Wednesday and will be eligible for full House debate next week.

If representatives approve the bill, which is similar to a version approved by the Senate in the past, Iowans could legally bet on the 2018 NCAA championships as well as other sports events.

The American Gaming Association estimates Americans will wager $10.4 billion on March Madness, a 13 percent increase from 2016.

However, only 3 percent of the money wagered — $295 million — will be wagered legally. The remaining $10.1 billion will go to illegal off-shore websites or through bookies, the association said.

If House Study Bill 52 is approved, wagering on fantasy sports would be legal in Iowa, taxed and regulated by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission that oversees gambling and gaming in the state.

Fantasy sports wagering would not be a big payout for Iowa.

Bill manager Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, hasn’t received a fiscal note on the 2017 version of the bill, but estimated the return could be $250,000 for the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund and $250,000 for the general fund.

“I’m not doing this for the revenue,” he said. “I’m doing this to give Iowans more freedom. To give them the freedom to play, if they want.”

According to a 2015 Legislative Services Agency fiscal note, fantasy sports wagering trade association estimated 300,000 Iowans would play daily fantasy sports through an internet fantasy sports contest service provider. It found that in a similarly populated states, participants paid $4.4 million in entry fees and charges. About $4 million was used for cash prizes and payouts.

Taxing the adjusted gross receipts would yield somewhere between $33,000 and $578,000 for the state, the Legislative Services Agency concluded.

Although Windschitl is optimistic about passage of House Study Bill 52, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, joked the House seems to talk about it every year.

“I suspect the caucus is ready to move that forward,” she said.

The way Windschitl sees it, in previous years the Senate approved fantasy sports betting and sent it to the House where no action was taken. In the past, the House has sent a bill to legalize fireworks to the Senate, but nothing happened.

This year, he pointed out, the Senate has approved a fireworks bill, and the House is working on a wagering bill.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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