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Lawmakers Hear From Would-Be Sports Betting Operators, And Some Opponents

John Pemble / IPR
Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, one of the groups seeking to run sports betting if it becomes legal in Iowa.

Representatives of Iowa’s lottery, casino, and horse-racing industries were among those making a case to lawmakers to let them handle sports betting in the state.  Pro sports leagues are also making a bid to run sports betting.

A Senate subcommittee Wednesday took testimony on four sports betting bills that favor different stakeholders.  Casino representatives say they have a long and successful track record handing betting in Iowa, and they’re already regulated by the state’s racing and gaming commission.

“We know that they will establish the necessary rules and regulations to ensure public confidence, with the highest level of oversight for the operators,” said Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association. 

Ehrecke says the state’s casinos would offer sports betting onsite, and make available a mobile app through which users could place bets within Iowa.  A person would need to register at a casino before receiving the app.

Supporters of the bill favoring casinos say it would bring in more customers, and more tax revenue for Iowa.

“Besides visiting the sports book while on property, they will hopefully do other things like play at the tables or slot machines, dine at the many restaurants or stay at the hotel, ”said Patty Koller of the Washington County Riverboat Foundation.  “A casino sports book could help generate added revenue for the state, since the tables and slots are taxed at 22 percent.”

Iowa Lottery officials say they could easily add sports betting to terminals throughout the state, and that could bring more customers into grocery and convenience stores.  A Lottery official also said other organizations, like casinos, could still offer sports betting under the bill it is supporting.

“True sports wagering enthusiasts appear to be going to casinos in Delaware, where the average wager during the football season was in the 50 to 60 dollar range,” said Mary Neubauer, the Iowa Lottery’s vice president of external relations, citing that state as an example of retail and casino betting operations in the same state. “The casual bettor appears to be visiting retail locations in Delaware, where the average wager remained 10 to 11 dollars throughout the football season.”

Iowa’s horse racing tracks cited their experience in offering wagering online, and a representative from pro baseball, basketball, and golf organizations cited the need to help maintain the integrity of their professional leagues by partnering with the state to offer sports betting.

Lawmakers also heard testimony from a few people who don’t want sports betting offered in Iowa.

Credit John Pemble/IPR
Greg Baker of the Family Leader asks lawmakers to consider what's best for Iowans, regardless of whether it's what they want.

“Our concern, always has been with gambling, is the addictive component,” said Greg Baker with The Family Leader.  “We know that a lot of Iowans are in favor of expanding into sports gambling.  I just ask you – at the Family Leader Foundation, we ask you – to consider what is best for Iowans.  And sometimes what it best is not what they want.”

The Iowa Catholic Conference is against all four bills, in part because it says people who can least afford to gamble might spend too much.

Wednesday’s was the first of several hearings for sports betting.  Lawmakers have said they will eventually develop a single bill for consideration.  House lawmakers will hold their own hearing on sports betting legislation Thursday.

Michael Leland is IPR's News Director