Will the Iowa Legislature Legalize Sports Betting?

Feb 4, 2019

Legalizing sports betting takes center stage this week at the Capitol as lawmakers return for week four of the legislative session. There was also some movement last week on a couple of possible constitutional amendments.

This legislative session is Iowa’s first chance to consider legalizing sports betting. Republican lawmakers have filed three sports betting-related bills. A supreme court decision last spring struck down federal law that “basically outlawed” sports betting in most of the country, IPR state government reporter Katarina Sostaric says. Now states can choose if and how they want to allow sports betting.

There’s not a set route for legalizing sports betting. The bills have different pieces involving the lottery authority, gambling facilities and fantasy sports. The Iowa Behavioral Health Association is registered in opposition to sports-betting legislation. Casinos are opposed to proposals that allow sports betting outside of gambling facilities.

House panel unanimously endorsed governor’s felon voting rights restoration proposal. Last week a politically diverse group of lobbyists advocated for Gov. Kim Reynolds’s constitutional amendment proposal. “It wasn’t much of a debate” Sostaric says. Everyone from the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, The Family Leader, ACLU of Iowa and NAACP all supported the proposal.

The governor’s proposal likely will be modified in the Senate. Senate Republicans are the biggest question mark right now. Senator Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said on Iowa Public Radio last week that “there isn’t much support among Republicans on the judiciary committee.” He said they’d keep an open mind but it’s unlikely to pass unless restrictions like completing payments to victims or a good-behavior waiting period are included.

The Senate is poised to introduce a proposal to restrict abortion in the state. Twenty-nine Republican senators, that’s a majority in the Senate, are sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment that says the Iowa Constitution does not protect a right to abortion. It’s a direct response to the Iowa Supreme Court last year striking down an abortion waiting period because seeking an abortion is a fundamental right in the Iowa constitution with stronger protections in the state than at the federal level. A proposal is expected to have its first hearing before a three-member committee. It would have to pass two general assemblies and be approved by a majority of voters to take effect.