2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Iowa's legal sports betting bill heads to governor's desk

Measure allows pro, college and fantasy sports wagering

Sports book (Dreamstime/TNS)
Sports book (Dreamstime/TNS)
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DES MOINES — Whether betting on professional and collegiate sports becomes legal in Iowa now rests with Gov. Kim Reynolds.

A measure to legalize betting on athletics, and also on daily fantasy sports, won the approval Monday night of lawmakers in the Iowa House. Having previously passed the Iowa Senate, the bill now heads to the governor’s desk for her consideration for being signed into law.

The governor’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the vote Monday evening. Reynolds is scheduled to host a regularly scheduled news conference Tuesday morning with Statehouse reporters.

The proposal approved by lawmakers, Senate File 617, would legalize betting on professional and college athletics, and on daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and FanDuel.

Bets could be placed at Iowa’s state-run casinos or online, and the industry would be regulated by the state agency that polices casinos and race tracks. Casinos would pay annual fees to host the betting, and any revenue would be taxed.

The proposal does not allow in-game bets — known commonly as proposition, or prop bets — on college athletics. Such bets usually involve small wagering amounts on things like whether the first free throw of a basketball game is successful or if a player scores a certain number of points.

Representatives of Iowa’s public universities were neutral on the bill as it worked through the Legislature, although they did applaud the compromise on collegiate sports prop betting.

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Supporters of the legislation said betting on sports already takes place illegally, and the state should legalize the activity so it can be regulated and taxed.

“Right now there is a rampant black market going on where tens of millions of Americans are betting on sports and fantasy (sports), and they do not currently have the legal right to do so. I believe this is a problem that needs to be addressed,” said Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, who shepherded the proposal through the House. “I believe sticking our head in the sand and doing nothing is not an option.”

Opponents cited concerns with an expansion of gambling and the problems that could be caused to individuals and families by gambling addiction — and with the potential for the corruption of Iowa’s college athletics.

Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, noted he was in the Iowa Legislature when the state first legalized gambling in 1983. He noted the multiple expansions since then.

“This bill is just a continuation of this trend, and to say it is not an expansion of gambling and bringing it out of the shadows is just window dressing,” McKean said.

The House vote did not fall along party lines; both parties were divided. There were 38 Republicans who voted yes and 16 who voted no; 29 Democrats voted yes and 15 no.

A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting. Several already have.

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