DES MOINES — State-regulated casinos could be the big Super Bowl winner as Kansas City Chiefs fans and others living in neighboring states where sports gambling is illegal come to Iowa to legally wager on America’s most-popular betting athletic event.
“I think the Super Bowl will likely result in the highest (wagering) handle for any game, day, or possibly weekend to date in Iowa,” said Brian Ohorilko, administrator for the state Racing and Gaming Commission. “The expected increase in traffic should help with overall casino numbers a bit.”
With more than a dozen retail sportsbooks at Iowa casinos, Max Bichsel, vice president of U.S. business for the Gambling.com Group — a marketing company in the sports betting industry — expects to see gamblers within driving distance of an Iowa casino make the trek to set up accounts and place their legal wagers — even making the 150-mile trip from Kansas City to the Lakeside Hotel & Casino in Osceola.
Iowa law, for now, requires sports bettors to go to a licensed casino to establish an account. The law allows online sports betting for account holders, but digital geo-fencing prohibits gamblers outside of Iowa’s borders from placing bets.
The Kansas City Chiefs face the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 2 in Super Bowl LIV.
“It’ll be the first big catalyst event that will help (Iowa casinos) hopefully drive some revenue,” said Bichsel, who compared the potential influx of bettors coming to Iowa to residents of Los Angeles traveling to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl — “just on a different scale.”
He said he expected sports fans from Missouri, Omaha, Neb., Sioux Falls, S.D., and parts of Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin who live fairly close to the border, and maybe even some Chiefs fans from Kansas City, to show up at Iowa casinos looking to place their bets.
“It depends how big of a fan they are. It’s definitely an interesting opportunity, especially for bigger bettors,” he said. “It’s really up to the consumer. If somebody wants to place 5 or 10 bucks, it’s probably not worth the drive.”
Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association — an umbrella group for the 19 licensed casinos in Iowa — said Iowa already has experienced some of that drawing power since the state legalized sports betting effective Aug. 15, 2019.
The state attracted gamblers from surrounding states wanting to legally wager on the collegiate Minnesota Gophers’ football team when they were doing well as well as the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and NFL teams like the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and Chiefs.
“We do get a lot of people coming from all borders,” said Ehrecke. “The fact that we’re the only one in the Midwest, I would anticipate — we don’t know what to compare it to — it’s going to be a record number the first year and then we’ll have that to compare to for the future.”
Adjusted gross revenue at state-regulated casinos for the first half of fiscal 2020 has seen a nearly 2 percent boost to $743.2 million, compared with $732.7 million from July through December one year ago, Ohorilko said. Revenue numbers were up at 13 casinos and admissions were up at 11.
“I do think sports wagering definitely is a factor,” especially in boosting admissions by more than 90,000 since July 1 since Iowans have to travel to a licensed casino to establish a sports wagering account and meet the qualifications to participate.
That requirement will end Jan. 1, 2021, under legislation approved last session and signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last May that legalized betting not only on pro and college athletics, but also on daily fantasy sports such as at DraftKings and FanDuel.
Bichsel said he expects Iowa to see “an uptick” in overall wagering handle — some from out of state — when February data for sports betting is released in March.
“I think that it could be significant. I think it will be a substantial jump, which will be a boon for the land-based casino operators. I think it will drive traffic just from having a sportsbook,” he said.
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Officials with the American Gaming Association are slated to release polling data Tuesday on Americans’ betting plans for Super Bowl LIV and projections for the sports betting landscape in 2020. Last year, the association projected about 22.7 million Americans wagered about $6 billion on the 2019 Super Bowl.
“There’s no one event that’s wagered on as much as the Super Bowl,” said Bichsel. College basketball’s “March Madness” first weekend and some European soccer matches are comparable, he said, but “the Super Bowl is definitely king in terms of a singular event in the U.S.”
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