Cedar Rapids Mayor and Republican candidate for governor Ron Corbett has proposed using the proceeds from legalized sports betting in Iowa to pump millions of dollars into the state’s underfunded mental health care system. Although we’re not ready to fully embrace sports betting, we think Corbett deserves credit for putting an intriguing idea out there for voters to chew on.
The future of sports betting in Iowa hinges on a much-anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling next year. Justices are weighing arguments in a New Jersey case challenging the constitutionality of a federal law banning all but a handful of states from allowing bets on games.
A ruling striking down the law probably would spark a Statehouse debate in Iowa over the merits and downsides of allowing Iowans to bet on college and professional sports. Iowa casino interests already are lobbying to control sports betting and rake in its revenues should it become legal.
We can debate the implications of more gambling and sports gambling in particular later. But Corbett’s proposal does raise a second, interesting question. If sports betting comes, where should the money go?
Should it be directed to underfunded public priorities, such as a mental health system the vast majority of Iowans believe is inadequate? Or should new gaming revenue simply go to casinos, and into a system of revenue sharing that vastly shortchanges noncasino counties? Casino interests have resisted changing that system, even as they profit from business flowing from noncasino counties, including Linn County.
Corbett says he’s open to allowing casinos to operate “Las Vegas-style sports books” in their facilities. But he’d rather see sports betting run by the Iowa Lottery. He’s tossing his plan out there and is urging Iowans to weigh in.
And that’s what’s most laudable about Corbett’s proposal, and his campaign as a whole. He’s been willing to float specific policy proposals on a wide array of issues, from tax reform and water quality to education and now mental health. After a series of Statehouse campaigns in recent years defined by gauzy generalities, platitudes and political misdirection, Corbett’s policy prescriptions, whether we agree with them or not, are a welcome dose of substance.
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