DES MOINES — Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Corbett said Wednesday he would favor legalizing sports betting in Iowa if the U.S. Supreme Court opens that option to states.
He added he would dedicate the proceeds to helping provide services needed to address Iowa’s mental health crisis.
Corbett, the outgoing two-term Cedar Rapids mayor who is seeking the 2018 GOP nomination for governor, said he prefers that legalized sports betting be conducted via Iowa Lottery online apps. But he also would consider offering the activity at state-licensed casinos in the traditional “Las Vegas-style sports book” format or providing interested adult Iowans with both options.
Based on independent projections already made regarding the revenue potential for sports betting, Corbett said it appeared the state could garner about $13 million annually from a casino-run approach, or about $24 million, if the activity were offered via the Iowa Lottery.
“I’m not hostile to the casinos maybe playing a role going forward, but I think the Lottery would be the better approach for the state of Iowa,” Corbett told a news conference Wednesday. “It’s the way to maximize the most from the transaction fees.
“But I’m not going to be a governor that dictates from the top down. I like to include people in the decision making.”
To that end, Corbett said he plans to spend $10,000 for advertising and establishing an online survey at roncorbett.com where participants can offer their opinions whether Iowa should legalize sports betting. The survey also would ask how the activity should be delivered in Iowa, and whether the proceeds should be dedicated to mental health services or flow into the state’s general fund.
He planned to release survey results early next year.
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The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to rule in 2018 on a New Jersey challenge seeking to open sports betting in states that legalize the activity. If the justices grant states the authority, Corbett said he would sign legislation legalizing sports betting in Iowa if he is elected governor.
He said he would support betting on professional football, basketball and baseball games as well as college football and basketball contests.
Corbett noted that Iowa turned to the state lottery and other forms of gambling when it was confronted with a farm-debt crisis in the 1980s and that former Gov. Terry Branstad signed many of the gaming bills that became state law. He said he was undeterred by critics who might question his position.
The GOP candidate said he believes Iowa needs to add more beds to its mental health system and he likes proposals that have been made for jail diversion or crisis stabilization centers to help address current problems.
However, he said it does not appear there will be much new money available in the fiscal 2019 state budget to fund the initiatives, and he is the only candidate offering a new revenue source to address the crisis.
“I think everyone agrees we have a big challenge on our hands, with maybe the exception of Gov. Reynolds who is still in a state of denial on this issue,” Corbett said.
He was critical of the Branstad-Reynolds’s “top-down” approach to closing state mental health and youth services institutions with little or no public input.
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