Government

Possibility of sports betting draws multiple potential stakeholders in Iowa

State Senator Roby Smith, R-Davenport
State Senator Roby Smith, R-Davenport

DES MOINES — If sports betting is to be made legal in Iowa, there is no shortage of agencies and organizations that want their piece of the action.

Legislative leaders heard from those groups Wednesday in a meeting at the Iowa Capitol that ran well over two hours.

Iowa casinos, the Iowa Lottery, Iowa horse racing and three professional sports leagues each made their pitch to key legislative committee leaders as state lawmakers consider whether to legalize sports betting.

“Today was a great first step in the process: listening to Iowans, listening to stakeholders, hearing the pros and cons from the four different proposals out there,” said Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, who chairs the Senate’s state government committee.

Committee leaders in the Iowa House will hear the same pitches Thursday.

Smith said Senate leaders will take the information they were given in Wednesday’s meeting and produce one sports betting bill, which they will introduce and run through the full legislative process, including more meetings like Wednesday’s.

“We did that to be transparent,” Smith said. “We still have a long way to go, but today was a great first step.”

Smith said the bill could be a mixture of the four proposals, or could lean heavily on one of them. He said Wednesday it was too soon to tell what the legislation will look like.

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Each of the four groups at Wednesday’s meeting made the case for their involvement in sports betting in Iowa — if it happens.

In their pitch, Iowa Lottery officials said retail stores across the state have expressed interest in being able to sell sports betting games just like they do lottery tickets. And lottery officials said they bring to the table experience in gambling and employing regulations and safeguards.

Also, other entities — such as casinos — would not be prohibited from hosting sports betting under the lottery’s proposal, and states such as Delaware have sports betting at both casinos and in the lottery, Iowa Lottery officials said.

“Retailers large and small have expressed they want the option of sports wagering or sports lottery,” said Mary Neubauer of Iowa Lottery.

With two decades of experience in gambling and regulation from a state commission, Iowa’s casinos said they make an ideal steward of sports betting.

“We believe this is the ideal, workable solution,” said Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, which represents 19 state casinos.

The organization that represents horse racing in Iowa made a similar pitch of experience with gambling and regulation.

The Iowa Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association would be the sole operator of sports betting in Iowa under its proposal.

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“We’re a known quantity in Iowa,” said John Moss, the association’s executive director. “We want to bring everybody along.”

The professional baseball, basketball and golf leagues had their own wish list, including an additional fee to protect the leagues’ integrity as gambling expands.

The pro leagues also requested input on which in-game bets — often called proposition, or “prop” bets — can be legally offered, although the final decision still would rest with regulators, and a requirement that whomever hosts sports betting purchase data from the leagues to determine the winners and losers of those prop bets.

“We want to ensure both leagues and regulators have the tools to ferret out corruption,” said Chris Rants, who was lobbying on behalf of the pro sports leagues.

The proposal also contained a mechanism that would legalize gambling on daily fantasy sports websites such as DraftKings and FanDuel.

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