DES MOINES — Proponents say Iowa missed the boat by not passing a law allowing casinos to offer sports wagering before the U.S. Supreme Court made such bets legal Monday.
“The story today is that Iowa is behind the eight ball, and that is not a good position to be in relative to this market,” said state Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo.
The high court paved the way for states to legalize sports betting. Danielson was among those pushing legislation in 2018 so Iowa was ready for Monday’s widely expected outcome.
The ruling was a defeat for major American sports leagues, endorsing New Jersey’s bid to allow sports wagering. It struck down a 1992 federal law that allowed betting on individual games only in Nevada.
Iowa was among 18 states that considered legislation to allow sports gambling if the court ruled as it did, but the Legislature adjourned earlier this month without adopting it.
So sports wagering will remain illegal in Iowa — at least for now.
“We’re excited to see the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as we expected them to do,” said Wes Ehrecke, a representative of the Iowa Gaming Association, which represents 19 state-licensed casinos.
“The timing would have been great to have had this done four weeks ago,” added Ehrecke.
Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, the author of a House bill to legalize sports betting, expects to push the issue early when the Legislature convenes in January.
“It’s about time. Let’s get this done. It’s been a stupid law for a very long time, and I’m ready to get this thing moving,” Highfill said.
However, Danielsen said the bill is by no means a lock.
“Pardon the pun, but we face long odds,” Danielson said. “I think people are allergic to evidence on this issue.”
At best it will be April or May of 2019 before the state could get sports books up and running. That means Iowans probably will not be able to legally bet on games until after some of the sports calendar’s biggest annual events: the 2018 NFL season and 2019 Super Bowl and 2019 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 2014 New Jersey law permitting sports betting at casinos and horse tracks. It voided the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.
The ruling takes the United States a step closer to legal sports betting in numerous states. The current illegal sports betting market is worth billions of dollars annually, and some states see it as a potentially important source of tax revenue.
The proposed Iowa law would have placed sports betting under the direction of the state’s casinos, regulated by the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission.
Bettors would be allowed to 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 revenues.
Sports betting could generate $80 million to $90 million annually in Iowa, according to an Innovation Group survey. The proposed legislation also would legalize mobile sports betting.
Miller said the rate of taxation will remain a hurdle for any Iowa legislation. And the professional sports leagues will fight for a portion of the revenues.
Experts said sports gambling is not a huge moneymaker for casinos. But it likely would add foot traffic to Iowa casinos, including many people who do not currently visit them.
Danielson and Highfill said legalizing sports gambling would bring current bettors out of the shadows. Americans illegally wager $150 billion on 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.
Tom Coates, an official with Consumer Credit of Des Moines who has been a leading gambling opponent in Iowa, said he expects a major push to legalize sports and fantasy sports betting in Iowa as part of an effort by the gambling industry to move into the online competitive interactive gaming market full tilt.
“The casinos are pushing hard for it, and so I’m sure that their army of lobbyists and money will be fully on display this next legislative season,” Coates said.
Casinos are hungry to tap into a market of younger players.
“They’ve been looking for some way to reach out and grab the younger people. Sports betting will start, but I don’t think it will end there,” he said.
“This is a big nose of the camel into the tent,” Coates said.
The ultimate goal is online gambling, he maintains. “We’ve been able to avoid the online gambling, but the casinos have been salivating over this for a long time.”