Staff Columnist

Gambling lobby helped make sports betting in Iowa a solid wager

A man displays his betting slips after placing bets on Super Bowl XLVIII at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Superbook in La
A man displays his betting slips after placing bets on Super Bowl XLVIII at the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino Superbook in Las Vegas, Nevada January 23, 2014. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

In July, interest groups and organizations filed reports on how much they spent on lobbying at the Statehouse. They may prompt some to question whether journalism was the most lucrative outlet for an interest in politics and policy.

There are a ton of numbers. And like so many state disclosures involving the influence of special interest money on our politics and lawmaking, they’re reported in a piecemeal fashion that makes broad analysis difficult, unless you’ve got time on your hands. It’s almost as if the inhabitants of the Golden Dome of Wisdom don’t want us to get wise to the game.

Speaking of games, you may have read that sports betting is coming soon to a state-licensed casino near you. Or, in the case of Cedar Rapids, not as near as you might like.

On August 15 at noon, at least some of the 18 casinos seeking sports betting licenses will be up and running and taking bets. I guess you can bet on baseball, good luck with that, or preseason NFL football, what are you thinking? So the real action won’t start until the end of August and into September, when college football and the NFL kick off their regular seasons.

Maybe you’re pumped. And maybe you’re wondering why our lawmakers thought it was a good idea to expand gambling in Iowa, again.

Well, it may have been suggested by some lobbyists.

Twelve casino corporations, online gambling sites and other groups were registered in support of the final version of the sports betting bill, Senate File 617. Combined, those groups spent $615,000 and change on lobbyists. Considering the millions of dollars in revenue up for grabs, it was a bargain.

It’s likely not all of that paid lobbying was focused on sports betting. Some of these entities have a broader agenda. But Iowa doesn’t require any breakdown on how lobbying dollars are spent, specifically, so we don’t know. What we do know is sports betting was the biggest gambling issue before the Legislature in years.


Of course, Iowa casinos wanted the biggest piece of the action. Boyd Gaming-Peninsula Gaming LLC, which runs the Diamond Jo casinos in Worth County and Dubuque, spent $108,000 on lobbyists. Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona spent just over $87,000. Penn National Gaming, which operates the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs spent $88,000.

Online fantasy sports titans DraftKings and FanDuel combined to spend nearly $170,000. The sports betting bill also allows Iowans to bet on daily fantasy sports sites. The firms spent just over $90,000 with the Iowa-based lobbying firm PolicyWorks, which includes former Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants, and nearly $80,000 with Orrick, Harrington and Sutcliffe, an international law firm with 25 offices around the globe.

Three groups registered against the bill. They were led by The Family Leader and Family Leader Foundation, which combined to spend more than $130,000. They, of course, had other legislative fish to fry, including remaking Iowa’s judicial nominating system. The Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church spent $22,000 and the Iowa Catholic Conference spent $53,700.

But the gambling lobby is the total package. They can score on the ground, in the rotunda, and through the air, with private jets. They’re always a safe bet.

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