Sports

Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission gives thumbs down to gambling on esports

Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher approaches the counter to place the ceremonial first bet Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at the
Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher approaches the counter to place the ceremonial first bet Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at the Isle Casino in Bettendorf . William Hill Sports Book opened for business at the casino and accepted the first legal sports bets from the mayor shortly after noon to mark the first day of legal sports wagering in the state. (Andy Abeyta/Quad-City Times)

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission rejected a formal request Thursday by the Iowa Gaming Association to allow casino wagering on esports.

During its meeting at Grand Falls Casino and Resort in Larchwood, the commission did approve a request by DraftKings Inc., of Boston, to allow Iowans to participate in daily fantasy esports contests via its website. DraftKings runs sportsbooks at three casinos in the state — at Clinton, Jefferson and Emmetsburg.

Booming in popularity, esports are organized video game competitions. Colleges in the United States, such as the University of Missouri and University of Oklahoma, have begun esports programs for students.

Professional sanctioned leagues in sports games, as well as other video games such as combat-based Fortnite and Call of Duty, have sprung up worldwide and are even shown on ESPN. It was those leagues that DraftKings and the Iowa Gaming Association, which supports the state’s 19 casinos, urged the commission to approve for wagering.

The five-person commission referred to legal liaison Jeff Peterzalek of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

“In my legal opinion, it would not be allowed under Chapter 99f for sports wagering,” he said, referring to the wording in the bill Gov. Kim Reynolds signed in May 2019 allowing sports gambling and fantasy sports in the state.

“There are multiple reasons for that,” he said. “First of all, as with any statute, words matter. And the words in Chapter 99e (regarding fantasy sports) are substantially different than in 99f. You also have to keep in mind that what we approved in the prior agenda item wasn’t because esports were a sport or an authorized sporting event, it was because they were a simulated game or contest, which is expressly allowed under 99e. There is no such language in 99f.”

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The commission voted 5-0 to approve the DraftKings’ fantasy esports proposal. It did not take a vote on the Iowa Gaming Association’s proposal.

“Words matter, I guess, as the AG liaison indicated,” IGA President Wes Ehrecke said. “It does not specifically say that esports are included. It appears our next option needs to be to go to the Legislature to get that clarified, that esports would be an acceptable form of wagering within our casino sportsbooks.”

Allowing esports wagering would have been a lift financially for casino sportsbooks, which have been crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down traditional sports. Only UFC and NASCAR are being conducted now, with the PGA Tour resuming later this month.

The state’s sportsbooks offer wagering on all three.

“We’re hopeful we’re going to get back sporting events, regular sports events,” Ehrecke said.

“But in the absence, or actually in addition to, esports would complement that. Just give another option to those who enjoy watching sports and wagering on sports. Esports is one of the fastest-growing areas for fan base. It could be really worthwhile to include that for people who want to wager on their favorite teams in esports in addition to what they might do for the traditional sports.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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