© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Iowans Get In The Game On First Day Of Sports Gambling

Workers at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa, take the first bets at the casino's new sportsbook.
Grant Gerlock
IPR file
Workers at Prairie Meadows in Altoona take the first bets at the casino's new sportsbook.

Iowa is officially open for business for sports betting. Several casinos across the state took their first wagers Thursday, making Iowa the 11th state in the U.S. to officially legalize gambling on sports.

Gaming executives joined local lawmakers for a ribbon cutting at Prairie Meadows’ new sportsbook in Altoona. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said before now some Iowans were already betting illegally.

“We decided the right path forward was to bring sports wagering out of the darkness into a controlled, regulated environment that offers consumer protection along the way,” Whitver said. Sports betting also offers new revenue for the state, although it may only add a small percentage to the $300 million already collected from casino gambling.

Whitver and State Senator Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, made the first bets at Prairie Meadows. Bisignano bet on the New York Yankees to win Thursday’s game. Whitver picked Iowa State to beat the University of Iowa in football this fall.

Then, people lined up at the betting counter to make their own opening day wagers. Mick Schminkey of Pleasant Hill bet $40 on a few NFL preseason games. He said he hopes to win a few bets eventually, but he wanted to make a wager on the first day for the experience.

“It’s just fun to have that first bet in my pocket,” Schminkey said. “I probably won’t ever throw this ticket away — unless I win.”

The sportsbook at Prairie Meadows is managed by William Hill, which is also operating sites at casinos in Waterloo, Bettendorf and Osceola. CEO Joe Asher said the Las Vegas-based company had its eyes on Iowa even before the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a federal ban last year.

“Given the gaming industry and its place in Iowa and the support of the legislature, we always were focused on Iowa and thinking that Iowa would be among the first to legalize sports betting,” Asher said.

While Iowa is one of the early states to adopt sport betting, others are close behind. Places like Oregon, Illinois and Indiana are working out the final details.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa