Seldom has a new regulatory rollout in Iowa been accomplished as swiftly as the implementation of rules for sports betting, now set for an Aug. 15 implementation at most of Iowa’s casinos.
The bipartisan legislation, which was passed in April, soon will be in play at 18 of the state’s 19 casinos, including the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo, when the college football season kicks off Aug. 24 and the National Football League’s regular season games debut Sept. 5.
It’s a remarkable and welcome achievement, in keeping with Iowa’s propensity for gambling — first in the nation not only for caucuses, but riverboat casinos, although all now are either perpetually moored or land-based. The state has more casinos than neighboring Illinois, but a quarter of the population.
The laggard will be the Casino Queen in Marquette. Others, though, could face delays depending on their controls meeting requirements and their technology being certified by an independent testing lab. The Diamond Jo and Q casinos in Dubuque reportedly won’t be ready by kickoff.
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission estimates that 15 of the 18 will have mobile-based games ready to go alongside bricks-and-mortar casinos. Bettors would have to register with the casinos before being able to play on mobile devices, and then only within the state’s borders.
The Isle and its sister casino in Bettendorf will be partnering with William Hill, a United Kingdom-based gaming company founded in 1934, which operates 113 race and sports books. It launched sports betting in New Jersey, and has partnered with gaming establishments in Mississippi, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. In Iowa, its partners include Prairie Meadows in Altoona and Lakeside Casino in Osceola.
The William Hill Sports Book will feature eight 65-inch odds boards, 15 55-inch viewing screens, and both standard tables and high-top tables for guests watching games. However, the legislation puts Iowa college teams off the boards. Online poker and casino games aren’t happening either.
What also is astonishing is that no groundswell of support for expanded gambling was apparent when the Legislature rushed through the bill, making Iowa the 11th state to adopt sports gaming and the first in the Upper Midwest.
A year earlier, Iowa was one of only five states banning daily fantasy sports games, and a legislative effort to change that fell flat. In fact, the new legislation delays daily fantasy sports games involving college players until next May.
Back in February, a Des Moines Register poll found 52% of Iowans opposed legalized betting on pro sports and 69% on college sports. In fact, only 6% indicated they regularly wagered on sports.
But the proponents were prepared, waiting in the wings since soon after May 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court approved New Jersey’s bid for sports betting, previously limited to Nevada.
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They are eager to divert money from illegal sports betting — an estimated $150 billion in annual bets derived from so-called “street bookies” and offshore operations. That contrasts with the $41.7 billion in revenue at all U.S. casinos, according to the American Gaming Association.
The Iowa Gaming Association touts itself as creating $1 billion in annual economic impact, paying $401.6 million in local, county and state taxes and buying $239.3 million of products and services from Iowa-based businesses.
The casinos would pay a $45,000 license fee and $10,000 renewal. The state also imposed a 6.75% tax on sports betting — tied with Nevada for lowest in the U.S. The daily fantasy sports sites will have a similar tax, but a $5,000 license.
Expanded gambling could mean additional revenues of $2.3 million to $4 million annually for state coffers. Regrettably, additional funding wasn’t added to deal with the state’s 13% adult gambling addiction rate.
It’s not a grandiose revenue number, which is good. An Associated Press analysis found four of the states with new sports gaming operations were way behind revenue projections.
While Iowans will be able to wager on pro and college games, “in-game” propositions on college sports are excluded. Basic bets will concern the outcome of games with the house (or bookmaker) devising a point designed to attract equal numbers of bettors on both sides, then taking a cut of the action.
It becomes more complicated with daily fantasy sports games, which include a smorgasbord of plays and statistics focusing on the performances of athletes.
The upside of gaming — and its inevitable expansion — is the payout to communities
The Black Hawk County Gaming Association has spread $47 million in support to 560 projects in 51 communities in seven counties.
Hopefully, more soon will be coming to its coffers and Cedar Valley communities.