Guest Columnist

Iowa must reject online sports betting

Stacks of chips are on hand at the roulette table at Riverside Casino on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013.  (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
Stacks of chips are on hand at the roulette table at Riverside Casino on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

The issue of legalizing online sports betting still is alive in our Legislature and could have a major influence on many lives in Iowa. My perspective on this is arguably as deep as any during the past 30 years.

Our company, Consumer Credit of Des Moines, has done debt counseling for more than 150,000 people in that time period. From 4 percent to 10 percent of these are problem gamblers.

In the 1990s, CCDM administered the 1-800-BETS-OFF hotline for the state of Iowa. When we gave up the contract in 2000, we were receiving 300 to 400 crisis calls a month.

I have witnessed the human fallout from legalized casino gambling. I want to address two issues.

First, the addictive nature of online gambling. We know, from the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, a clear majority of Iowans oppose this. Many instinctively know it is addictive.

Prince Harry made news recently over his grave concerns involving young boys and Fortnite. Many parents with boys are very aware of this game. This type of online gaming is where the sports betting bill will eventually lead — to fast action, intentionally addictive gaming. It will not stop at betting on the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Chiefs.

It is early, but Massachusetts reports 5.7 percent of casino sports betters are problem gamblers. When it was offered online, that number skyrocketed to 18.2 percent.

Disastrous numbers are coming out of the United Kingdom and Ireland. A new study out of the U.K. found that three-quarters of online gamblers had borrowed money or sold property to gamble. Is this the climate we desire in Iowa?

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My second point is what the casinos claim is “bringing it out of the shadows.” I understand the casinos make nearly all their profits from the slot machines. The bread and butter here is older Iowans sitting on a stool for long hours, many smoking, because the casino allows it to keep them in front of the slot machine. The younger generation has little interest in this activity. The answer is online gambling.

The Register’s poll found only 4 percent of Iowans regularly partake in sports gambling. In the U.K., 20 percent of all TV sporting events encompass ads for betting. This ramped-up advertising guarantees much increased interest.

The early indications are those betting illegally now will not come into the light. The regulation and taxes will not offer nearly as good a deal as the bookies are offering now. What it will do is drive a new interest that will push many into the shadows. The revenue projections of the early entrant states have fallen way short of expectations.

I urge Iowans to join me in calling on our legislators to defeat online sports betting. I know an army of well-paid lobbyists are pushing hard with their own clear motivation to pass this bill.

It’s our legislators’ responsibility, first and foremost, to protect Iowans. That means turning away from this fast lane to addiction.

• Tom Coates is executive director of Consumer Credit of Des Moines, a credit counseling service.

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