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Staff Columnist

Iowa's overbearing gaming laws are no fun

Linda Conaway of Riverside prepares materials for a community euchre game night she helps organize at the American Legion hall in Lone Tree on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.



KC McGinnis for The Gazette
Linda Conaway of Riverside prepares materials for a community euchre game night she helps organize at the American Legion hall in Lone Tree on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. KC McGinnis for The Gazette

At long last, Iowa is expected to join the civilized, fun-loving world.

Dave and Buster’s, an arcade chain and marketed toward adults, reportedly plans to open its first Iowa location next year. The gaming center will fill a vacant department store space in West Des Moines’ Jordan Creek Town Center, KCCI reported this month.

Iowa is a late addition to the Dave and Buster’s empire. The company has more than 100 locations in North America. It occupies 39 states, including our neighbors in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Iowa is in sad company with North Dakota and South Dakota — each with a population less than one-third the size of Iowa’s — as the only Midwestern states without a Dave and Buster’s.

Given that success, one has to wonder — what took so long for the adult play place to come to Iowa?

The answer is overregulation by the state government.

Until recently, Iowa law prohibited gaming prizes exceeding $100 in value. That effectively outlawed Dave and Buster’s, which offers high-value prizes to players who win large numbers of game tickets.

Last year, the company employed lobbyists at the Statehouse, who successfully persuaded lawmakers to increase the limit to $950, despite objections from the casino industry and lawmakers who apparently hate it when people have fun.

Legislators and Gov. Kim Reynolds did a good thing, but gaming outside casinos remains absurdly overregulated in Iowa.

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Organizations that offer “amusement concessions,” which includes arcades, must apply for an annual state license. Games can’t cost more than $5 each, cash can’t be awarded as a prize and winners can’t sell their prizes back to the host.

Those rules are part of a much larger Iowa Code chapter on “social and charitable gaming,” which imposes a long list of restrictions on card games, bingo and other competitive events, including those hosted by private groups or individuals. Not even a basement Texas Hold’em game among friends is safe from government intervention.

Casino-style games except for poker are forbidden in social settings. Wins and losses are limited to $250 in a 24-hour period. The host or dealer can’t charge a cover or take a portion of the wagers, even if everyone agrees to it.

Perhaps most startling, law enforcement agents must be “immediately admitted, upon request.” Apparently, the Fourth Amendment does not apply when betting is involved.

That state even attempts to regulate friendship. According to the law, players in a social gambling setting must have a “real, genuine, unfeigned social relationship,” and must have “an established knowledge of the other.”

The intent of the law is to prevent arcades or private card games from resembling casinos. Those restrictions are supported by a peculiar coalition of the casino lobby and policymakers who are opposed to gambling altogether.

Those heavy-handed rules are one of the many reasons why young adults who don’t like binge drinking or trail cycling complain there’s nothing to do in Iowa. Iowa policymakers, worried about our aging population and slow population growth, should take note.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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