WATERLOO — Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson made the first wager at the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo on Thursday as Iowa launched legalized sports betting.
The former Chicago Cubs outfielder naturally bet on college football.
“I don’t even really know why I’m here because I never really bet on anything,” Dawson said, before picking the Miami Hurricanes to beat the Florida Gators on the gridiron. “Whenever I go to a casino the only thing I’m interested in is the buffet line.
“I wish you all the success going forward,” added Dawson, who had a long line of fans waiting for autographs. “Let’s kick the Cubs in the rear end and get them going.”
The Isle joined other casinos across the state Thursday in kicking off sports betting, which had been approved by the Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this year.
Iowans now can place bets on everything from football and baseball to soccer and boxing matches in an area of the casino operated by William Hill Sports Book. Large odds boards and TV screens with sporting events fill the walls.
“We hope it improves our gaming environment and really hope that when people come out it just gives them one more thing to do,” said Thomas Roberts, vice president and general manager of the casino. “This is a place you can come and spend one day, two days, maybe a weekend.”
Roberts said the casino is still working to complete the sports book area with a drink rail and hopes it will be a popular place during sporting events. The sports book, by the way, is a nonsmoking area because it is not considered part of the gaming floor.
Todd Connelly, regional senior vice president for the Isle, said he believes sports betting will be “a big shot in the arm, not only for our property … but the whole state of Iowa.”
The Black Hawk County Gaming Association gets 5.75 percent of the adjusted gross gaming revenues to distribute as grants to community projects.
“They take that money and put it back in the Cedar Valley,” Connelly said. “I’m excited for them.
“Hopefully they’ll have more money to distribute to our community,” he added. “If you drive through the Cedar Valley you can see all the improvements that have been done due to the (BHCGA revenue).”
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Dan Shapiro, vice president of strategy and business development for William Hill US, said he believes sports betting will add to the overall pie rather than taking revenue away from the traditional games.
“It brings in a little different demographic than the typical casino customer,” Shapiro said. “Customers tend to be younger males who might not otherwise come to a casino.
“It really activates the casino around big sporting events,” he added. “In Nevada, the Super Bowl, March Madness, these are big events. So we think they’re going to become big events here in Waterloo as well.”
Ted Batemon was at the sports book opening to cut a ribbon as a member of the Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors. But he stuck around to make a wager.
“I placed my first bet and took Iowa over Miami of Ohio,” said Batemon, who likes to wager on sporting events but couldn’t do it in his home state until this week.
“It was nice to bet in person,” he said. “When you go into the sports book in Vegas you always go, ‘Why don’t they have this in Iowa?’ Now they do, so it’s a good deal.”
Randy Hess of Waterloo also was standing in line early at the casino but had no intention of placing a bet. He was hoping to get Dawson to autograph his Cubs cap.
“I watched him play in Montreal and I watched him play in Chicago,” Hess said. “In my opinion he was one of the best right fielders to play the game.”
The new Iowa law allows bettors to set up and deposit money into an account at a state-licensed casino, which then allows them to place bets online and on mobile devices from anywhere in the state. Bettors must register for accounts in person.
William Hill’s Shapiro said it remains to be seen how many Iowans will choose to wager and watch games in person versus betting online. While roughly 70% of the bets are made through mobile apps at William Hill’s Las Vegas sports books, Shapiro noted that market is much more mature.