2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Iowa sports betting bills advance

Family Leader speaker compares gambling to prostitution

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann

R-Wilton
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann R-Wilton
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DES MOINES — The legalization of sports betting in Iowa took two steps forward Thursday at the Iowa Capitol.

Committees in each chamber approved separate but similar proposals that would enable Iowans to bet on professional and college athletic events and on daily fantasy sports websites.

The proposals would allow Iowa’s casinos to offer sports gambling in the casinos and online.

Revenue from sports betting would be taxed, and the industry would be regulated by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who chairs the House committee considering the bill, said the question before state lawmakers is not whether sports gambling exists or will expand but whether the state should legalize, tax and regulate it.

“The Legislature has two options,” Kaufmann said. “Option one, we can stick our head in the sand, click our heels and really hope this goes away. Option two is to regulate and tax (sports betting).”

A panel of three Iowa House Republicans and two Democrats approved the House proposal after hearing from myriad stakeholders.

Opponents, including faith-based groups, said they do not support any form of gambling expansion in Iowa because of the potential for issues that arise from addiction.

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Chuck Hurley, vice counsel and counsel for The Family Leader, caused a stir when he compared gambling to prostitution, noting that when gambling was first introduced in Iowa, proponents said it would help economic development.

“If you’re in favor of promoting the gambling vice for economic development, what about prostitution?” Hurley asked.

Kaufmann responded tersely, “Seriously?”

A lobbyist for professional athletic organizations expressed disappointment their requests were not met in the House bill.

The leagues had asked for input into what types of in-game bets would be allowed, as well as a requirement that casinos buy leagues’ data that would decide the bets.

“We do still have concerns that this bill does not address ensuring there’s a square game for all players and all bettors in Iowa,” said Christopher Rants, a former House member who lobbies on behalf of professional baseball, basketball and golf leagues.

A representative for the casinos said they are pleased with the decision to have casinos operate sports betting in Iowa, but asked House members to include a provision — that’s in the Senate version of the bill — requiring bettors to first establish a sports betting account in-person at a casino. As proposed, that requirement would be in place for the first 18 months.

The Senate proposal passed out of that chamber’s State Government Committee on an 8-6 vote, with one Republican joining the committee’s Democrats in voting against it.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, said he supports legalized sports betting but could not vote for the bill because it does yet specify the tax rate on sports betting revenue or the licensing fees the state will charge casinos that house sports betting.

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The House bill contains both: a 6.75 percent tax on revenue and annual fees of $15,000 for sports betting and $5,000 for daily fantasy sports.

Those details will be added to the Senate proposal as it moves to the tax-writing committee.

Kaufmann said he will present the House bill next week to the House State Government Committee.

l Comments: (515) 422-9061; erin.murphy@lee.net

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