Iowa lawmakers approve sports betting and fantasy sports sites; bill heads to Reynolds
Prairie Meadows recently finished renovations and is ready to open the states first sports book once the Legislature approves it. Des Moines Register
Iowans, get ready to start placing bets on your favorite college and professional sports teams.
Iowa lawmakers on Monday night finalized legislation,a 67-31 vote, that would legalize sports wagering and placing bets on fantasy sports websites and apps like DraftKings and FanDuel.
The legislation follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down a federal ban on sports wagering. Since then, lawmakers around the country have taken steps to regulate an industry that involves at least $150 billion in annual illegal wagers, the American Gaming Association estimates.
"This just brings people out of the shadows and gives them a regulated environment," said Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport. "It gives people the freedom to choose to do sports wagering, legally."
What's next before you can bet?
The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has not indicated publicly whether she'll sign it into law.
The legislation would be a win for Iowa casinos, which would regulate the industry after winning out over competing proposals on such authority. It also represents a bipartisan effort by Iowa's lawmakers, with members on both parties voting for and against it.
If the governor signs the bill, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission would start to develop rules for casinos to implement. The IRGC would aim for rules to be adopted in July or August, commission administrator Brian Ohorilko said, to give casinos some time in the summer to adjust before college sports and NFL games start up.
The commission would likely use its emergency rule-making procedures, which means the rules would be adopted more quickly than usual. But it would also mean that the Administrative Rules Review Committee could alter them later.
Iowans would be able to wager on sporting events at any of Iowa's 19 casinos, and online if they visit a casino in person to prove they are at least 21 years old.
The bill is largely about taking an industry that already exists in Iowa and making it legal and regulated, state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said. Iowans are already betting on sports, so this bill gives these industries a legitimate avenue.
"This is an industry that is here," Kaufmann said. "This bill regulates it, taxes it and polices it."
Kaufmann said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the governor would approve the legislation. The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Prairie Meadows bets big on Iowa sports gambling
Concerns about gambling addiction
Not everyone is pleased. Some religious organizations and business lobbyists said they were against the sports betting legislation, in addition to a number of lawmakers.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the bill would hurt land-based casinos and allow companies and the state to take advantage of people with gambling addictions.
"The powerful gambling industry has captured Iowa," Bolkcom said in Senate remarks last week. "It's a predatory industry just like big tobacco and big vape."
Kaufmann said the Legislature also proposed funding to help the Iowa Department of Public Health increase treatment programs for people with gambling addictions.
Some forms of sports gambling are already legal in Iowa, like greyhound and horse racing. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which regulates existing gambling industries, would also take on sports betting.
This bill comes after months of arguing about who should be in charge of the new gambling system. At least four versions of the sports betting bill were proposed that gave power to the Iowa Lottery, professional sports leagues and the horse racing industry before the final version, which put casinos in charge, advanced.
The IRGC may make some changes on fine details in the legislation, but there's nothing that would be a "major overhaul" expected in the future, Smith said — the casino system should be here to stay, as should amendments like the ban on wagers over in-game actions by their favorite college athletes.
Gary Palmer, the president and CEO of Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino, said the nonprofit organization worked with legislators to agree on a tax rate and regulation that makes sense for Iowa and the casinos in-state.
"We wanted to make sure it was comparable to what laws look like in Las Vegas and other areas where this is legal," Palmer said. "Now that it's something we all agree to, we're all for this."
The governor has not indicated whether she supports the legislation.
“We’re going to do the same process that we do with any legislation that passes," she said. "My policy team and I will sit down and we’ll review the bill at hand and then we’ll make a decision.”
Robin Opsahl covers politics for the Register. They can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 515-284-8051.