When it comes to betting policy in Iowa, look for a tune-up to the car you drove at the start of 2022. Don’t expect anything fresh from the showroom.
That’s the word from Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association (IGA). Last week he made an annual check-in with lawmakers on behalf of the 19 state-operated casinos in Iowa.
Not enough fuel for online casinos
The “new car” in our analogy refers to online casino bets — often called iGaming. Iowans probably won’t pull a virtual lever on an online slot machine or place poker bets from their phone for cash anytime soon.
Ehrecke hears from online casino game supporters within Iowa’s casino industry. They see the offering as the next logical step in Iowa’s betting climate:
- The technology is available and convenient for customers.
- They also see iGaming as a reliable revenue stream during days or seasons when a trip to the casino isn’t ideal.
Opponents talk to Ehrecke too.
- They feel online casino game bets would impact their multi-million-dollar facilities the same way streamed movie debuts have impacted the movie theater industry.
- Some of the resort casinos feel at-home casino betting would siphon away too much food, entertainment and lodging revenue.
Online casino legislation is still possible technically but it isn’t going anywhere. The Iowa Gaming Association will work on other priorities, according to Ehrecke:
“We’re neutral on it from the gaming association and not going to be working on it. It could be a bill gets introduced. But it’s not going to advance and get any traction this session.”
Iowa’s sports betting engine hummed with big numbers at the end of 2021. So here’s what to expect from the state’s policy mechanics in the 2022 Iowa Legislative session:
New tires? Iowa casinos could add betting options in 2022
With 18 sportsbooks in Iowa, online game bets have been rolling along, but esports could be the new set of tires that keeps revenue from going flat.
Keep an eye on House Study Bill 578. It could bring esports and other sports betting choices to Iowa. Ehrecke sees a lot of interest in the esports wagering option.
“They can get almost as big as the NFL. They have sanctioned collegiate conferences and teams, they have professional teams.”
In fact, the IGA president thought Iowa laws already created space for esports bets. But, the wording just wasn’t tight enough from the state’s perspective.
Ehrecke’s casino members hope the Iowa Legislature will tighten the lug nuts on policy language for the esports betting crowd.
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) would then work with sportsbooks to make sure esports bets are fair wagers for Iowa customers.
Iowa policy has another shimmy for customers who want to bet on the Heisman Trophy winner or Super Bowl MVP. Again, the parts were in place, but legislatively, not everything was bolted down.
HSB 578 could clear up pro sports draft uncertainty in future seasons as well. New laws usually take effect July 1 in Iowa, so fans might not get NFL Draft betting options in time for a wager on Tyler Linderbaum’s draft spot in April. The Hawkeyes center should be a top 20 pick.
In one more tweak, the house study bill could allow bets on certain charity events as well. Non-golf celebrities who take part in “The Match” golf events on Thanksgiving weekend are an example.
Replacing an old filter for 2022 e-wallet use
Iowa customers can’t bet on online casino games from home, but they may soon be able to pay for bets using their phone during a visit to the casino floor.
Under current laws, the same policies that ban ATM machines from locations directly on the casino floor have also blocked cashless payment options for customers. HSB 578 would change out that murky wording. If passed, bets could be placed with a scan of your account on a mobile device. Ehrecke likes the potential convenience for his casino customers.
“You’d have a record of that and your ledger,” he said. “There are companies out there that are partnering with casinos. We have the rules in place by the racing and gaming commission.”
He also said an e-wallet system has responsible gaming elements as well. Customers can preset transaction amounts and frequency to stay within a betting budget.
Smoking in casinos: The cigarette lighter still works
Lawmakers could always attach an amendment to HSB 578, but Ehrecke doesn’t expect a separate casino smoking ban bill to have traction in the Iowa Legislature. “There has been a bill introduced, it will not advance,” he said.
“You just have to do the education with the lawmakers. Our perspective has been that we are, as an industry, very proactive. We have to accommodate both non-smokers and smokers in an acceptable indoor air quality environment.”
Iowa casinos follow ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) 62 standards, and Ehrecke said casinos “meet or exceed those every year.”
“We have some of the best filtration and ventilation systems within our businesses to remove the smoke on a regular basis.”
Revved up revenue so no fines, please
A couple of state laws have been enforcement speed traps for Iowa casinos, so the IGA will ask lawmakers to remove some penalties as part of HSB 578.
Currently, Iowa casinos check every casino customer’s win of $1,200 or more. That’s because casinos must hold onto some or all of the windfall if the Iowa customer owes a state debt. Past fines, court costs or overdue child support are just a few examples.
“For about 11 years, we’ve collected well over $51 million dollars for the state. And, we’re going to continue to do that.”
Sometimes casino employees make an unintentional error, however. The IGA wants casinos to still correct the mistake, but Ehrecke doesn’t think the businesses should be fined for doing the bet-with-a-debt enforcement.
The state can also fine casinos if someone from the industry’s voluntary self-exclusion program gets past security. HSB 578 would eliminate fines for an honest mistake. Ehrecke stresses that responsible gaming policies are important for the industry.
“We’re going to continue to do those and do that proactively. However, sometimes there’s an unintentional employee error when they’re processing these.”
So, when will HSB 578 be out of the garage for casinos?
HSB 578 was introduced on Jan. 19 then referred to the Iowa House State Government Committee. It will have to emerge from the committee, pass the house, then find support in the Iowa Senate.
Two deadlines will signal whether lawmakers want to spend time on the betting legislation. Iowa lawmakers call them “funnel weeks.” Some bills will make it through the “funnel” for a vote while others have to be shelved for another year. The winnowing dates in 2022 are Feb. 18 and March 18.
“It’s too early to tell that but I’m optimistic,” Ehrecke told PlayIA at the start of the week.
“We’ve been talking to the legislative leaders and key legislators that hopefully there’ll be a subcommittee on it this week.”
April 19 is the 100th and last scheduled day of the Iowa legislative session. Lawmakers can go beyond the date, but the state won’t compensate them for daily expenses beyond that point.