Guest Columnist

Iowans should speak out against sports betting

The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann’s gambling bill would legalize on-site and online college and professional sports betting, as well as daily fantasy sports sites (DraftKings and FanDuel). This is a massive expansion of gambling. The demand for this comes from the gambling industry, with its out-of-state billionaires, and from the state, for revenue — not from ordinary Iowans.

Since the 1980s, the gambling debate in Iowa has concerned public policy, not the personal choice to gamble. The expansion to slots and high stakes in 1994 revolved around the debts of communities that had over-invested in the industry, like Polk County (Prairie Meadows Casino and horse racing) and Waterloo (the greyhound track) — not the merits of 21 Iowa casinos.

As the casinos spread tentacles of money, lobbyists, investments, and handouts into government and communities, the public good and the gambling interests became intertwined.

The latest excuse for expansion is tax revenue and ending illegal offshore gambling. The Legislature says these gamblers will switch to a casino and pay taxes. This is patently dishonest.

The industry wants internet gambling. They are after every cellphone and wallet. They openly admit their goal is real time, 24/7 gambling access — on every cellphone and video game. The sleeper, scarcely mentioned in Kaufmann’s bill, is legalization of daily fantasy sports betting. Go online and watch how DraftKings operates in New Jersey — offering nearly every available sport and type of wager with relentless ads. FanDuel promotes its “Sports Betting Training Camp,” instructing newcomers on how to bet!

This predatory industry uses advertising to exploit the neuroscience of addiction. Alarm bells have been ringing on children’s dependence on digital screens and games.

According to the Times of London, in the United Kingdom, promotions and special offers from online gambling firms now regularly appear on social media feeds for children, directing them to the companies’ websites. Online fantasy sports gambling bills that legalize “eSports” allow gambling operators to turn every child’s video game console (like Play Station and Xbox) into a casino — where young people can wager on video games.

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Online gambling is a financial fraud that will result in life-changing losses for millions. Iowa’s former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, defending his 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, spoke of unconstrained internet gambling’s potential to alter America’s savings and investment habits.

Studies show 40 percent to 50 percent of gambling revenues come from problem or addicted gamblers. Like tobacco, the gambling lobby has spent millions to misdirect the academic literature on addiction. Iowa ignores its own studies, and will use massive ad campaigns and promotions to target these vulnerable people — because that’s where the money is.

Our state has moved from permitting, to promoting, to pushing gambling for revenue, exploiting the at-risk, financially desperate, addicted gamblers for money.

This is a monstrous betrayal of the public trust. Speak out now, and stop this legislation.

• Antonia Russo lives in Solon.

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