Does sports betting belong in casinos or grocery stores? Iowa Legislature begins deciding
NJ Governor Phil Murphy casts the first sports bet at the WIlliam Hill Sports Book at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, NJ. Asbury Park Press
A battle over who will benefit from legalized sports betting in Iowa will soon arrive at the Capitol, bringing with it competition ingrained in high-stakes gambling.
If advocates succeed, Iowans could soon use their mobile phone to place bets on Hawkeye and Cyclone games, or professional baseball and basketball games. Or they could stop by a gas station to place limited bets when buying a lottery ticket.
Iowa lawmakers scheduled a pair of meetings this week to simultaneously review at least three bills that individually favor different stakeholders: casinos, major league sports, online fantasy sports and the Iowa Lottery.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Wilton Republican who chairs the House State Government Committee, saidhe wants a unifying plan to emerge in the weeks ahead. He’s reserved the old State Supreme Court room Thursday for two hours.
The Senate subcommittee will meet Wednesday in Room 116, another large room at the Iowa Capitol.
Subcommittees typically involve three-to-five lawmakers and are a bill's first step in the legislative process. It’s unusual for lawmakers to review more than one bill at a time.
One sports betting bill would allow Iowa's 19 commercial casinos to run in-person and online betting operations, which the Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission would oversee.
Last month, Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino announced it would partner with sports betting company William Hill U.S. to operate the casino's sports book if betting becomes legal.
Wes Ehrecke is president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, which advocates on behalf of casinos. Under the bill, he envisions Iowans coming to a casino to register to play on a mobile phone — including college and professional sports — then placing bets anywhere in the state.
Ehrecke said it could be difficult to craft a single bill that will collectively please all the interested parties because each proposal has competing concepts.
“They’ve got to make some philosophical decisions,” he said of lawmakers. “Should it be on the casino platform? Or elsewhere? We feel that we’re best suited."
Another sports betting proposal would favor major league sports, including paying those organizations a fee for bets placed on their games and using official league data to determine game plays.
It would also establish a system for online fantasy sports. Lobbyists from Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the Fantasy Sports Trade Association are registered in support of that legislation.
MLB Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Bryan Seeley said the league wantsa detailed plan for how sports betting will be conducted in the state.
“We’re interested in creating a robust sports betting market that is fair to stakeholders and protects all sports fans,” he said.
A third bill would give the Iowa Lottery oversight of limited sports betting at convenience stores and supermarkets; wherever lottery games are sold.
Mary Neubauer, vice president of external relations for the Iowa Lottery, said they're monitoring the bill. She noted it is locally focused, convenient and aimed at overcoming the illegal sports betting market.
In addition, Ehrecke and Neubauer said a fourth bill is expected.
Advocates for sports betting, an illegal practice in many states, have been undeterred, despite roadblocks at the highest level.
Last year the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that effectively banned sports wagers in most states. A handful of states have passed legislation since the ruling, and multiple states are reviewing proposed legislation.
It's a complex issue, said Neubauer, with the lottery.
"Every state seems to be doing it a little differently," she said. "So truly it’s just, what do the lawmakers want a sports wagering system to look and function like in Iowa?”