December Didn’t Bring Tidings Of Joy For Iowa Sportsbooks As Handle Fell

Posted on January 24, 2020

The final month of 2019 was more stingy than generous for legal sportsbooks in the Hawkeye State. The December sports betting numbers across the state represented a small decline.

Handle mostly stayed flat month-over-month. The $59.26 million in wagers was down about two-tenths of a percent from November 2019. Two factors played into this situation.

Why no growth for December sports betting numbers?

The main reason for the lack of growth in handle was the winding down of the college football and NFL seasons. While both the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones qualified for bowl games, neither team received a bid for a high-profile New Year’s Day game.

There was some good news for the market on the NFL front, however. Three of the four closest NFL teams (Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings) were in playoff contention throughout the month, and that’s a reason why the decline wasn’t any sharper.

The fact that Green Bay, Kansas City and Minnesota all qualified for the postseason could be an asset to January numbers. That won’t be certain until the report for that month comes out, however.

Sportsbooks in Iowa have been running promotions to maximize their returns on what’s left of the football season. There is one element to this situation that they can’t do much about, however.

The same problem continues to plague Iowa sportsbooks

For the rest of this year, handle in the Hawkeye State will continue to be plagued by Iowa’s in-person registration requirement for online betting. Because of Iowa’s lower population density, many people could consider it more convenient to bet on the “black market” because they can do that from their couches without having to make the drive to their nearest operator who offers online wagering.

The fact that not all of Iowa’s retail sportsbooks offer mobile betting complicates this issue further. Some Iowans may have to drive several hours to register.

This not only reduces the amount of in-state bets online sportsbooks see but does the same for out-of-state action as well. There is hope, however.

On Jan. 1, 2021, the in-person registration requirement sunsets. At that time, the entire process of legal betting can be done completely online in Iowa.

The ability to pull in the maximum traffic from surrounding states may be diminished at that point, however. Legal sports betting should launch in Illinois this year.

On top of that, Missouri has begun the process of legalization, as well. Iowa’s concession to casinos may have very well cost the state its best chance to gain maximum revenue from sports betting.

The state treasury isn’t the only party to see diminishing returns, however. For the second consecutive month, revenue was down for sportsbooks in Iowa.

Another downturn in win for Iowa sportsbooks

Revenue in November for Iowa’s sportsbooks was down about 36.6% from October 2019. Last month win at the same establishments further reduced to about $2.89 million.

That’s a drop of another 19.5% from November and 54.3% from October. Five of the state’s operators reported a net retail loss for the month.

At two of those four, however, the win from their online component was enough to make up for those losses. One of the other two doesn’t yet have an online offering.

The NFL playoffs may be sufficient to make up for a disappointing December. The Iowa market won’t reach its full potential, however, until the in-person registration requirement expires.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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