Casinos win legislative support for running Iowa sports betting market
Legal sports betting in New Jersey reaches its first Super Bowl Sunday. February 3, 2019 Kevin R. Wexler, NorthJersey
Casinos would be in charge of running sports betting in Iowa under new bills in the Iowa House and Senate to legalize the practice.
Wagering on both college and professional sporting events would be legal at the state's 19 casinos, as well as online if Iowans visit a casino once to register and prove they are at least 21 years old, if the measures become law. The requirement to visit a casino in person would sunset after 18 months under a Senate bill.
The bill, which passed a Senate subcommittee Tuesday, would also legalize fantasy sports for the first time in Iowa. A similar bill in the House is expected soon.
The proposals are largely a win for the casinos, which submitted one of four industry proposals vying to regulate sports betting in Iowa. The Iowa Lottery, horse racing industry and professional sports leagues were largely left out of the new bill. Lobbyists for MLB, NBA and PGA Tour are registered against the Senate bill, while lobbyists for the Iowa Lottery are undecided.
Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, who chairs the Senate State Government Committee, said the casinos have 30 years of experience operating in Iowa and that allowing them to run a sports betting system wouldn't involve risk to the state as there would be if the Iowa Lottery ran the new system.
"What’s important for me in this bill is that it ensures integrity but most importantly the safety and protection of those that participate in sports wagering," Smith said.
Smith said the bill prohibits betting on high school, minor league and amateur sporting events and includes provisions intended to foster responsible gambling and combat addiction.
Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association, said placing sports betting under the casinos' infrastructure is "an ideal solution."
Some casinos have already begun preparing. Last month, Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino announced a partnership with William Hill to operate a sports book in the casino in anticipation of sports betting being legalized.
The Senate bill lacks figures on what sorts of fees and taxes would be charged and where the state would allocate that money. Smith said that process will happen in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which deals with taxes.
Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, would like the bill to send some money to charities. He declined to support the bill in the Senate subcommittee meeting Tuesday, calling it "incomplete."
"We just voted out of subcommittee a sports betting bill … (but) we have no idea the tax rates we’re going to charge, the fees and the licenses and how we’re going to deal with fantasy sports," Bisignano said.
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who chairs the House State Government Committee, plans to release a House version of the bill which will also put casinos in charge of the sports betting system.
Kaufmann said his bill will have "at 90 percent agreement" with the Senate proposal, but he will include a tax scheme in his legislation.
Smith and Kaufmann said they expect any differences between the two bills to be worked out.
"We’re going to look to work that through the process and work it out and come to a bill that the House and the Senate and hopefully the governor can agree on," Smith said.
Reporter Barbara Rodriguez contributed to this report.