Iowa Casinos and Online Gambling

Iowa casino laws, sweepstakes and regulated market

Eighteen of the 21 casinos in Iowa are on board with the new sports betting law, which adds online and retail sportsbooks to the Hawkeye State’s riverboat and land-based venues.

As things stand, there aren’t any state-regulated online casinos. Iowa residents and visitors can enjoy online slots and casino games at sweepstakes-based online casinos instead.

Everything you need to enjoy casino games in Iowa is on this page. 

We look at Iowa’s current online casino options, what future regulated online casinos might be like and information about the brick-and-mortar casinos around the state.

Iowa casinos and the law

When the first riverboat casinos in Iowa opened in 1991, they had to be in motion. Licenses for four boats, the Dubuque Casino Belle, Emerald LadyDiamond Lady and The President, were required to sail on their respective rivers during the season.

Each license would also require a local referendum. Before this, there was only pari-mutuel betting on greyhounds and horses, a lottery and limited charity gambling. Over the next few years, tribal casinos and additional riverboats came to be.

It was a 2004 amendment that saw the need for the riverboat casinos to be removed from the statutes. At this point, the rules for racetrack casinos and the (now moored) boats were equalized.

Fifteen years later to today, the most significant change to Iowa gambling laws in recent history took place with the passing of bill SF 617. This bill allowed for sports betting — live and online — as well as another land-based casino. 

Sports betting in Iowa would begin on Aug. 15.

Compared with many states, Iowa has a broad selection of live casinos; however, many are the old riverboat casinos. These are now moored, and big hotel and leisure complexes were built around them. There are also Indian casinos and land-based racetrack venues.

Below, is an overview of the biggest and best Iowa casinos, along with location and facilities (including sportsbooks):

  • Ameristar Casino: Located in Council Bluffs, Ameristar attracts players from Nebraska, as well as Iowa. This casino opened in 1996, and after several changes in ownership, it is now owned and operated by Penn National Gaming. This riverboat venue has 1500 slots and table games, a sportsbook and a 160-room hotel.
  • Queen Marquette: This riverboat casino is smaller than many Iowa venues, with just eight table games and more than 500 slots. This casino is in Marquette, IA, along the Mississippi River across from Wisconsin. CQ Holdings owns it.
  • Catfish Bend Casino: This casino is based in Burlington, and is now part of an entertainment complex called PZAZZ! It started as a riverboat venue in 1994, before moving to land in 2007. There are more than 600 slots, plus 25 table games, a sportsbook and plenty of entertainment and dining options.
  • Diamond Jo Casino: Based in the Port of Dubuque, national operator Boyd Gaming owns this casino. Originally a cruising riverboat casino, it became land-based in 2008. There are more than 775 slots, 16 table games and a sportsbook. There are multiple entertainment options available, including a bowling center, theaters, bars and dining options.
  • Diamond Jo Casino Worth: Boyd Gaming also owns Iowa’s second Diamond Jo Casino, which is in Worth County, near Northwood, Iowa. The venue caters to outdoor sports, hunting and golf. There are almost 1,000 slots and 22 table games, in addition to a sportsbook.
  • Grand Falls Casino: This riverboat casino is close to South Dakota, in Larchwood, IA. Elite Casino Resorts owns Grand Falls. You’ll find a poker room, sportsbook, table games and 750 slots here. There is also an event center and a golf course.
  • Hard Rock Casino: Located in Sioux City, the Hard Rock is a more recent arrival on the Iowa casino scene than many rivals, opening in 2004. There is a small hotel, entertainment complex, including three restaurants and a sportsbook. You’ll find 850 slots and 25 table games at this casino.
  • Harrah’s Casino: This Caesars Entertainment property is in Council Bluffs, along with the Ameristar and Horseshoe casinos. It offers a golf course, entertainment complex and 250+ room hotel at the site. This casino was a riverboat until 2013 when it became land-based. There are more than 500 slots, table games and a sportsbook here.
  • Horseshoe Casino: The second Caesars Entertainment property is the bigger of the two. This Council Bluffs-based venue has approximately 1,500 slots and table games, along with a William Hill-themed sportsbook. It is on a former greyhound racing track; racing ended in 2015.
  • Isle Casino Bettendorf: One of two Isle casinos, this one is close to the Quad Cities. It has a history stretching back to1995. Like many Iowa casinos, Isle Casino Bettendorf started as a riverboat and moved to land in 2016. In addition to a sportsbook, there are 935 slots and table games here, plus a 514-room hotel.
  • Isle Casino Waterloo: Eldorado Resorts owns this “isle.” It is a relatively recent addition to the Iowa casino scene, opening in 2007. There is a William Hill Sportsbook at the site. You will also find more than 1,000 slots and 25 table games; furthermore, restaurant and hotel facilities complete the resort.
  • Lakeside Casino: Located within easy reach of Des Moines, Lakeside is in an area of natural beauty which is popular for summer vacations. You’ll find an RV park at this Osceola-based venue. There is also a hotel, entertainment complex and many table games, slots and a sportsbook.
  • Prairie Meadows Casino: This venue is best-known as Iowa’s thoroughbred racetrack located in Altoona. The track opened in 1984, with the addition of slots and table games in 2004. Today, this is a big venue that includes simulcast betting, sports betting, slots, table games and poker. Racing takes place from April to October.
  • Q Casino: Based in Dubuque along with the Diamond Jo Casino, the Q is a combination of greyhound racing track and casino. The city of Dubuque owns the nonprofit venue. You’ll find a thousand slots and numerous table games here, in addition to four restaurants.
  • Rhythm City Casino: This casino was one of the original riverboat operators when Iowa gambling began in 1991. It was then known as The President. Located in Davenport, this casino moved to dryland in 2016. The most recent addition was a sportsbook in 2019. It offers thousands of slots, 25 table games, four restaurants, a hotel and an event center.
  • Riverside Casino: Elite Gaming owns Riverside Casino, which is within an easy drive of Iowa City in Riverside. You’ll find more than a thousand games at this venue. There is also a poker room and a new sportsbook. With a golf course, entertainment venues, bars, restaurants and a hotel completing the resort.
  • Wild Rose Casinos: There are Wild Rose casinos in Clinton, Emmetsburg and Jefferson. These are locally owned, with the Wild Rose headquarters in West Des Moines. Furthermore, all three casinos have slots, table games and a new retail sportsbook. They also provide hotel, dining and entertainment options to enjoy.
  • Tribal Casinos: In addition to this long list of land-based, racetrack and riverboat casinos, Iowa has four tribal casino venues. These include Blackbird Bend, Meskwaki, Prairie Flower and WinnaVegas casino.

Iowa casinos and responsible gaming

The Iowa Gaming Association takes problem gambling seriously and offers a state-wide self-exclusion program

The program allows anyone to voluntarily join a list that will stop them from entering any of the land-based or riverboat casinos. The tribal casinos are not part of this scheme.

Also, there is an assistance hotline in Iowa. Dial 1-800-BETS-OFF, and you’ll reach someone who is trained to assist you. You can also visit online resources at www.yourlifeiowa.org.

There are treatment programs and licensed treatment providers available via these state resources. Identifying problem gambling is not always easy; you’ll be able to find self-assessment questionnaires online to highlight any issues.

Legal online casinos in Iowa

Bill SF 617 does not include the provision for online casinos. As in many states, many people hope that the successful rollout of sports betting online will improve the chances of future legislation.

You can legally enjoy casino slots and (limited) table games via sweepstakes casinos. These operators work countrywide using rules usually employed by companies for contests. The most prominent brands are Chumba Casino and LuckyLand Slots.

What would a regulated market look like in Iowa?

By looking at New JerseyPennsylvania and elsewhere, we can see what a future regulated online casino market might look like in Iowa.

With no licenses made available in bill SF 617, this would require an extension to the current laws. 

Casinos in NJ and PA are significant sources of revenue for these states. Combining with a successful launch of online sports betting, it could trigger amended legalization in the future.

As with the sportsbooks, brick-and-mortar casinos in other states have partnered with established providers of casino games. These include major brands like 888IGT and GAN

Some casinos are branded around live casinos, too. Examples include SugarHouse (from Rush Street Interactive) and Golden Nugget online in New Jersey.

In addition to the regular slots and table games, regulated online casinos feature new games, including the popular live dealer table games at selected brands.  

Sweepstakes casinos as an alternative option

Most states have sweepstakes laws on their books. These allow companies to give away prizes for (usually free to enter or with purchase) contests.

LuckyLand and Chumba have adopted these laws to offer casino games using a virtual currency called “sweeps cash.”

You can get it free sweeps cash in several ways, including mail-in offers and social media contests. You can also get free sweeps as a “gift” when you buy “gold coins” (which are for fun play only). If you win with sweeps cash, you can legally swap it for dollars and cash it out to your bank account.

Essentially, every time you play, you’ll be entering a super-short sweepstakes contest. While you are playing the games, they don’t feel any different from slots or table games.

Get sweeps cash: Free and with purchase

You can check out sweepstakes casinos for free by getting free sweeps cash. You can use this to enjoy the games and, who knows, maybe win a jackpot.

Chumba Casino gives Iowa gamblers $2 in sweeps cash solely for registering. 

You can also get free sweeps cash by sending a letter to a registered address with your account details. Contests and sharing on social media also give you an avenue for getting sweeps cash for free.

A faster way to get started is to buy some “gold chips,” which are for entertainment only. The sweepstakes casinos will give you free sweeps cash when you buy gold chips that you can get with your credit card. LuckyLand Slots will supply you with double sweeps cash on your first purchase.

Remember, both brands are completely legal and US-based. They state that the chances of sweepstakes contest laws changing are minimal. If any state did change the regulations, there would need to be plenty of notice, as companies running draws and giveaway marketing contests would need to be involved in the discussions.

Types of online casino games

Here are the types of games that you may find at future online casinos if regulation in Iowa allows for these:

  • Slots: Many specialist software houses produce slot games; some are the same ones create live casino slots and others are online specialists. You’ll have thousands of online slots to choose from that range from three to five reels. Many have entertaining and interactive bonus features, jackpots and more.
  • Table Games: You can find popular games, like blackjack and roulette, at online casinos. With no dealer to pay, there are plenty of variations of each. Some come with entertaining side bets, others with novel gameplay. Other popular table games include craps, poker-themed games, pai gow and more.
  • Live Dealer Table Games: Instead of player vs. software games, new online casinos let you play games dealt in real-time from studios. These games feel like you are sitting at the table in a real casino and have a social element to them. Games include rouletteblackjackbaccarat, casino Hold’em and Ultimate Texas Hold’em.
  • Video Poker: You don’t need to sit at a bar to find video poker variations like Deuces WildJacks or Better or Bonus Poker online. Look out for multi-hand games and other entertaining varieties.
  • Bingo and Keno: Both games can come with a lot of fun themes, entertaining variations and (sometimes) big jackpots.
  • Novelty Games: There are games in online casinos that don’t fall neatly into any of these categories. Virtual betting games on horses, soccer or auto racing are examples. There are also scratch-card games and others with TV game show themes.

The live casino and sports betting scene in Iowa is thriving. 

There are racecourses, land-based casinos riverboats (that are now static) and tribal casinos. 

In addition to the slots, table games and poker rooms, many Iowa casino sites have leisure facilities. You’ll find restaurants, music and show venues, hotels, bars and nightclubs.

Online casino games are not yet regulated at a state level. The latest gambling legislation brought online sports betting to Iowa bettors. 

You can enjoy slots and limited table games at sweepstakes casinos, which operate legally in most states. Otherwise, it is a case of hoping that the rollout of sports betting apps is a big success that prompts future legislation to introduce online casino games.