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Iowans gambling $9.6 million a day on sports betting
Betting at state casinos on pace to break 2012 record
DES MOINES — Betting an average of $9.6 million a day on sports, Iowa gamblers and sportsbooks operators were giving thanks for legalized sports betting in November, posting yet another monthly record with wagering topping $287 million and revenue for the burgeoning industry approaching $20 million, state data shows.
Last month’s continued betting frenzy on professional and college sports — an activity that became legal in Iowa in August 2019 — pushed the wagering handle above $975 million for the current fiscal year that began July 1 and put Iowa within reach of $2 billion in betting for the calendar year if there’s another strong showing in December, financial reports issued by the state Racing and Gaming Commission indicate.
Likewise, adjusted gross revenue reported by Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos was potentially on record pace, with more than $730.3 million through the first five months of the current fiscal year after a strong November showing of $136.5 million. In comparison, Iowa's casino gambling industry posted a yearly record of nearly $1.47 billion in gross adjusted revenue in fiscal 2012. If the current trend continues, Iowa’s casinos will shatter that records by millions.
So far this fiscal year, state tax revenue earned on casino gambling totaled nearly $140 million and sports betting generated just under $4 million — half of that coming just in November, the commission reported.
Betting currently allowed at 17 state-licensed online and retail sportsbooks last month topped the previous record of $280.9 million in October, and was up nearly 230 percent from November 2020 when the wagering handle stood at $87.2 million, according to official data released Friday.
“It's a very competitive industry right now,” said Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the state Racing and Gaming Commission, during recording Friday of Iowa PBS’ “Iowa Press” television show.
“It really has been significant interest in this state and the industry continues to grow,” Ohorilko noted, “and we kind of have taken a measured, layered approach in opening with in-person registration. And then when that went away, we really saw things take off. And so every month we continue to see increases in handle. Last year we had approximately $6 million in tax revenue to this state. We anticipate that will grow.
“We have 17 companies that are licensed to conduct online sports wagering, four more that we expect to be licensed here in the next few months. And so the industry continues to grow” he said. “We have had very few regulatory issues. We will continue to provide regulatory oversight. And it has just been a really good story to this point in time.”
Effective last Jan. 1, Iowans 21 and older no longer were required under state law to travel to a state-licensed casino to set up an account that allowed them to place sports bets at a casino or online. Instead, they were able to register their sports betting accounts using mobile apps or their smartphones or other electronic devices. Since then, the vast majority of sports wagers have been made via smartphones or other electronic devices, with November’s online handle topping $260.3 million and totaling nearly $871.4 million so far in fiscal 2022.
“It's another viable entertainment option, not unlike if they were to wager on their phone and watch it at home or in some other location,” said Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, an umbrella group for the licensed casinos in Iowa.
Ehrecke, who also appeared on “Iowa Press,” has attributed the surge in gambling numbers to "pent-up demand, people having more dollars from last year to spend on entertainment.”
Daily betting through online and retail means averaged $9.6 million in Iowa during November’s 30 days, according to PlayIA, an online network that tracks news, analysis and research related Iowa’s gaming market.
“The expansion in betting in Iowa over the last three months has set a new floor for the industry,” said Eric Ramsey, an analyst for the PlayUSA.com Network, which includes PlayIA.com. “Operators have used the popularity of football to not only attract new customers, but also to expose existing bettors to more diverse forms of betting. The growth this fall will benefit state sportsbooks for the months and years to come.”
Three straight record months of sports betting aided by aggressive marketing by competing sportsbooks have brought calendar year wagering to a staggering $1.8 billion — with a major share of bets being placed online after Iowa ended in-person registration at casinos last Jan. 1.
“The removal of in-person registration requirements for online sportsbooks at the beginning of the year was obviously a watershed moment for the state,” said Russ Mitchell, lead analyst for PlayIA.com. “But the growth of the last three months has been on another level.”
According to commission data, Caesars and DraftKings were the leading sportsbooks while border-hugging Diamond Jo Worth and Ameristar Council Bluffs led the retail market in revenue with NFL and college football the main driver of wagering growth for the last three months along with the addition of NBA and college basketball in November.
“Football is driving record growth this fall, not just in Iowa but all over the country,” Mitchell said. “But with four Division I basketball programs, Iowa’s sportsbooks have an opportunity to grow some more this winter, especially if Iowa and Iowa State continue to play well.”
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