Government

Iowans wager record $149.5 million on sports in January

Super Bowl, March Madness expected to drive numbers higher

Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher places the ceremonial first sports bet Aug. 15, 2019, at the Isle Casino in Bettendorf. W
Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher places the ceremonial first sports bet Aug. 15, 2019, at the Isle Casino in Bettendorf. With Iowans no longer required to register in person at a state-regulated casino to place a sports bet, sports wagering hit $149.5 million in Iowa in January. (Quad-City Times)
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DES MOINES — Iowa gamblers were all in on sports wagers in January, driving betting activity to a monthly record $149.5 million.

With college and professional football playoffs in full swing and sportsbooks flourishing without in-person registration requirements, “it truly was an unbelievable month for sports wagering,” said Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the state Racing and Gaming Commission.

Legal sports wagering in Iowa topped the $100 million plateau in January for the second straight month, and it was the fourth month in a row for record-setting growth.

Industry officials expect betting activity will continue to grow with Sunday’s Super Bowl and the NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament on the horizon.

“January was the first test of an unshackled market, but it didn’t take long to realize just how much Iowa’s sportsbooks have been held back by the state’s in-person registration requirements,” said Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for PlayIA.com, which tracks regulated online and retail gaming in the state.

“These will be an exciting next few months in the market, with some of the biggest sports-betting holidays — namely the Super Bowl and March Madness — buoying what should be rapid expansion,” Gouker added. “This is a whole new era in Iowa sports betting.”

As of Jan. 1, Iowans could go directly online to play a bet without having to go to a state-licensed casino and register in person — which was part of the phased-in requirements put in place when Iowa legalized sport gambling in August 2019.

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January’s $149.5 million in wagering via online and retail sportsbooks was a 42.7 percent increase above the record $104.8 million handle in December. The wagering produced $11.3 million in net sportsbook receipts and $765,673 in state taxes.

For the fiscal year, net receipts top $46.5 million on $569 million in wagering and $3.14 million in state taxes. Of those bets, $421 million were placed online.

“It’s reasonable to anticipate that February numbers will be in line, if not more,” said Ohorilko, who noted Iowa now has 11 state-licensed sportsbooks with another 10 likely to seek approval.

Having the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s Super Bowl LV will drive interest in an already popular wagering event, he noted.

Also, “remote registration is still new and all of the operators are competing very heavily for customers right now. The promotions are very high,” he said.

Casino report

According to separate commission data issued Friday, Iowa’s 19 state-regulated racetrack and riverboat casinos took in nearly $127.8 million in adjusted gross receipts in January, bringing the year-to-date total to $833.7 million for the first seven months of the current fiscal year.

That has generated nearly $162.9 million in revenue for the state, as 8,911,576 customers went through the turnstiles at Iowa’s casinos.

Last month’s adjusted gross receipts were up 13 percent, Ohorilko said, with all but three posting year-over-year jumps for January — several significantly.

For the seven months of the current fiscal year, overall receipts are off by 2.5 percent, with fiscal 2021 “shaping up to be at least a fairly good year,” the commission administrator noted. “It’s very encouraging, what we’re seeing.”

For help

Not everyone was celebrating Iowa’s jump in gambling activity,

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Officials in Iowa’s Department of Public Health on Friday issued a reminder of its 1-800-BETSOFF hotline for Iowans who feel they have a gambling problem.

Health officials noted the American Gaming Association estimates that 23.2 million adults plan to bet a total of $4.3 billion on Super Bowl LV, likely making it the largest single-game legal sports betting event in American sports history.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated consumer shifts to online sports betting, with a record 7.6 million Super Bowl bettors planning to wager with online sportsbooks — a 63 percent increase from last year’s Super Bowl.

With nearly 10 million Americans experiencing problems with their gambling each year, Iowans should be aware that problems with sports gambling can happen to anyone, regardless of background or experience, according to the public health alert.

Sports bettors are twice as likely to be at risk for problem gambling, the alert said.

More information about getting help with gambling problems is at https://yourlifeiowa.org/gambling.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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