Thanks to NASCAR, Iowa sports betting slowly gears up

Customers watch the various games on a wall of televisions as sports betting from football pros and college to basketbal
Customers watch the various games on a wall of televisions as sports betting from football pros and college to basketball and hockey takes place Nov. 9, 2019, at the Isle of Capri in Bettendorf. (Gary Krambeck/Quad-City Times)

DES MOINES — Sidelined for more than two months because of coronavirus concerns, Iowa gamblers are back in action.

While awaiting Gov. Kim Reynolds’ nod for Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos to reopen this month, gamblers took advantage of limited online wagering opportunities on NASCAR, Ultimate Fighting Championship, German soccer and a few other minor sporting contests to bet nearly $6.98 million in May.

The slow resumption of gambling — in a world socially distanced by COVID-19 realities — enabled Iowa’s casinos to generate net receipts topping $501,000 last month after paying out $6.48 million in winnings, according to Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission data.

“After witnessing Iowa’s sports betting handle plummet from $56 million in February to just $1.5 million in April, we’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel,” said Max Bichsel of Group.

He said Iowa saw a rebound in May with the amount of money in wagers accepted — known as handle — up 344 percent to $6.9 million.

“While major sports remained on hiatus, we can thank the return of NASCAR last month as one of the biggest activities Iowa was betting on,” Bichsel added.

“Under normal circumstances, Iowa would have likely seen May handle come in around $65 million. But with bettors limited by the shutdown, instead activity was just a fraction with only $6.9 million in handle for April.”


Since state legislators and Reynolds authorized legalized sports wagering to take effect last Aug. 15, Iowans have wagered $355.3 million on sporting events — much of it during the fall and winter months of professional and college football and basketball until the spreading coronavirus pandemic shut down sporting events worldwide.

Iowa’s casinos have made $25.1 million after paying out winnings since August, with $13.1 million coming from online betting and the remainder from in-person wagering at casino locations under the state’s sports-betting rules. The new gaming activity has generated $1.75 million in state tax.

Overall, Iowa’s state-licensed casino gambling industry has hovered at just over $1 billion in adjusted gross revenue for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. May’s meager sports betting brought the total to nearly $1.05 billion with one month remaining until the books are closed June 30.

All but two of the 19 casinos have reopened, said state commission administrator Brian Ohorilko. Heading into the last month of fiscal 2020, he said the casino gambling industry in Iowa is down about 21 percent compared with last year’s first 11 months.

By comparison, Iowa’s casinos licensed by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission took in nearly $1.457 billion last fiscal year. The fiscal 2019 total was down about a half of a percent from nearly $1.464 billion in gross adjusted revenue for fiscal 2018 and short of the record of nearly $1.47 billion in gross adjusted revenue set in fiscal 2012.

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