Dave & Buster's bill heads to Gov. Reynolds' desk, despite gambling fears
Legislation aimed at bringing the Dave & Buster's restaurant and arcade chain to Iowa is headed to Gov. Kim Reynolds' desk for her consideration.
The Iowa Senate gave the measure final approval Tuesday.
Senate File 2333 was approved 44-5, despite warnings by opponents who predicted it represents an expansion of gambling. Critics suggested the bill could cause a repeat of a controversy that ended in 2006 after Iowa lawmakers banned thousands of "TouchPlay" gambling machines installed in taverns, convenience stores and grocery stores.
Iowa law currently limits "amusement concession" prizes to $100 or less, a provision discovered by attorneys for Dave & Buster's as the company explored opening restaurants in Iowa. That law regulates places like Chuck E. Cheese, where customers can redeem game tickets or tokens for prizes. But the current law keeps out Dave & Buster's, which offers some prizes like iPads or gaming consoles that far surpass that $100 limit. The legislation raises the limit to $950.
Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, who was the bill's floor manager, strongly disagreed with the idea that the legislation will represent an expansion of gambling in Iowa. He said there is no comparison between a Dave & Buster's restaurant adjacent to his legislative district in Omaha and Iowa casinos that operate in Council Bluffs.
"For everyone who is worried about a slippery slope, this is not the bill," Dawson said.
But Sen. Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, cautioned that a House amendment to the legislation that strikes a square-footage requirement could ensure that businesses offering prizes worth $950 to customers could be located "on every corner in every city and every town in this state."
"We need to think about this. This is not something that we should do," Hogg said.
Hogg cited the controversy over the Iowa Lottery's TouchPlay games as evidence of problems that could develop. The devices were originally described as a way to sell lottery tickets, but they ultimately became little more than casino-style slot machines. More than 6,700 machines were installed statewide. Many Iowans bitterly complained they couldn’t buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of gasoline without being exposed to gambling, and legislators responded by yanking every TouchPlay machine in an unprecedented move.
But Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, defended the Dave & Buster's bill, saying he was present for the TouchPlay debate. He suggested Hogg was making a "far-fetched" comparison.
“This is not an expansion of gambling. This has nothing to do with that. This just for fun-loving kids," Zaun said.
However, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, pointed out that the Dave & Buster's bill was broadly opposed by casino companies, including those representing Wild Rose casinos in Jefferson, Emmetsburg and Clinton; the Dubuque Diamond Jo Casino; and Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, as well as other casinos. Lobbyists for Dave & Buster's were registered in support of the bill.
"This bill is about expanding gambling. The gaming interests themselves have told us that," Quirmbach said.
Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, urged support for the legislation, saying Dave & Buster's is a reputable company that wants to open businesses in Iowa. He said the legislation simply means Dave & Buster's will be able to go beyond offering stuffed animals as prizes to offer better grand prizes.
"Iowa is too far down the road to talk about a restriction on gambling," said Bisignano, who noted it's been nearly three decades since the Iowa Legislature authorized casino gambling. The state now has 19 state-regulated casinos and three tribal casinos as well as greyhound and horse racing.