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Sports betting licenses, rules approved for Iowa casinos for Aug. 15 kickoff

Most casinos getting ready for start of football season

A roughly $11 million renovation at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside included installing televisions next to gaming tables. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
A roughly $11 million renovation at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort in Riverside included installing televisions next to gaming tables. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

WEST DES MOINES — Legal sports wagering in Iowa is a step closer to reality with Tuesday’s unanimous adoption of rules and licenses granted to 18 casinos by the state Racing and Gaming Commission.

“This is a very exciting day,” said Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, an umbrella group for Iowa’s state-licensed casinos. “A lot of moving parts had to take place to get this here for these approvals.”

Casinos that have entered into contracts with advanced deposit wagering companies licensed to set up online and on-site sportsbook operations in Iowa will be able to offer the new gambling on professional and college sports events or fantasy sports contests beginning at noon Aug. 15. Ehrecke said some will be able to meet that deadline, but most casinos will be ready by the end of August as the 2019 football season gets into full swing.

At Tuesday’s meeting, state gaming commissioners voted 5-0 to approve emergency rules for sports wagering and license applications made by 18 of Iowa’s 19 state-regulated casinos. The Casino Queen Marquette is the only state-licensed casino that has not yet applied for a sport wagering license.

Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said his staff will spend the next two weeks going over various controls like preventing problem gamblers or anyone under 21 from participating, and establishing systems to monitor and report suspicious wagering patterns or other questionable activity.

“This definitely is a significant undertaking for a number of the casinos,” Ohorilko told reporters after the meeting. “I believe that it will generate a significant amount of traffic into the casinos. From a revenue standpoint, we’re not seeing significant additional revenue in some of the other states where sports has been authorized, but it definitely has increased the traffic and that will be good for the casinos.”

Initially, Iowans will have to travel to a licensed casino to establish an online account and meet the qualifications to participate.

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Dan Franz, general manager of the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, said sports wagering will add another attraction to his venue. He said plans call for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 15 and some launch parties heading into the first full weekend of college football Aug. 24 and 25.

Franz said he expects the added attraction of sports wagering to generate increased attendance, but he said expectations of generating new revenue are “tempered.”

“It’s hard to tell,” he said. “We hope that there are a lot of sports bettors that come out of the gray, come out of that dark market and are going to do something legally.”

Jeff Lamberti, a state gaming commission member, said Tuesday’s action was somewhat of a formality. The harder work now involves meeting all the controls, especially complying with the fantasy sports and mobile components of Iowa’s new law.

“While they’ll be allowed to conduct sports betting on Aug. 15, that’s only if they meet all of our controls, so there’s no guarantee that all of them will be ready to go on the 15th,” he said.

A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states beyond Nevada to provide bookmaking and betting at casinos and racetracks. The Iowa Legislature approved and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law earlier this year Senate File 617, a bill that legalized wagers on most professional and college sports in state-regulated casinos and online.

While she signed the sports betting law, Reynolds said she will not be one of the bettors.

“No, I’m not a gambler. I’m just not,” Reynolds said during an interview last month.

The governor said her main interest in approving the law was to make sure the integrity of Iowa’s regulatory system is in place and to bring an activity already taking place illegally in Iowa under state regulation.

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Iowa’s law legalizes betting not only on pro and college athletics, but also on daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and FanDuel. The new law does not allow in-game bets — known commonly as proposition, or prop bets — on in-state college teams such as the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones. 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.

The college football season kicks off Aug. 24, and the professional football season begins Sept. 5.

The state stands to collect a 6.75 percent tax on the casinos’ sports-betting “hold,” which is the house’s share after bets have been settled. Casinos will pay annual fees; and the gambling will be regulated by the commission that oversees dog and horse racing.

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

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