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Iowa Lawmakers Send Sports Betting Legalization Bill To Governor

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John Pemble/IPR file
The measure would allow licensed casinos to host in-person and mobile app sports betting on college and professional sports.

Updated Tuesday, April 23, 2019 at 10:50 a.m.

Iowans 21 and over could soon legally place bets on professional and college sports under a bill that lawmakers sent to the governor Monday evening.

The state House of Representatives passed the sports gambling legalization bill 67-31 with support and opposition from Republicans and Democrats. If Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signs it into law, Iowa will become one of at least 11 states with legal sports betting, many of which have taken this step since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a federal ban on the practice in most states.

“I do believe it is here at our door and it should be regulated,” said Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City. “I look at it, in a way, as a runaway train. But we’re not going to stop it. So we should address it. And I think this bill makes a good effort at addressing it.”

If signed into law, this measure would allow licensed casinos to host in-person and mobile app sports betting on college and professional sports. Participants would not be prohibited from betting on the individual performance of athletes on Iowa college teams.

It would also allow Iowans to claim fantasy sports prizes based on the performance of professional athletes. College sports would be included in this starting in May 2020.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said legalizing this will bring gambling that’s already happening out of what he calls a “rampant black market.” 

“Doing nothing is not an option. Sticking our head in the sand is not an option,” Kaufmann said. “Hoping that people can get help when they’re placing bets in dark alleys with bookies whose collection method is a threat to kneecap you, isn’t good for anybody.”

But several Republicans and Democrats argued legal sports betting will result in more gambling addiction with negative effects on Iowa families.

Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, said this is a “foolish and misguided move” that will “usher in the biggest expansion of gambling in Iowa history.”

“The legislature whose job it is to look out for and protect Iowans is now deceiving Iowans and luring us into harm’s way,” Salmon said. “We who should know better are now putting a stumbling block in front of the citizens we are sworn to protect.” 

Rep. Scott Ourth, D-Ackworth, agreed with Salmon.

“It troubles me that somehow or another we have figured out how to rationalize this business in the face of our pledge to do no harm,” Ourth said. “Because I can tell you every time we expand opportunities for this vice called gambling, it will definitely result in harm to someone.”

Under the bill, sports betting revenue would be taxed at 6.75 percent. It creates an account that will allow lawmakers to assess how much money is coming in and decide what to do with it. A separate bill sets $300,000 aside for gambling addiction treatment programs.

The Senate passed the bill last Thursday with a 31-18 vote. 

On Tuesday morning, Reynolds did not say if she would sign the bill into law. 

"My policy team and I will sit down, and we'll review the bill at hand and we'll make a decision," Reynolds said. 

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter