Iowans Shouldn’t Expect Legal Wagering On Political Elections Any Time Soon

Posted on April 15, 2020

Legal sportsbooks in Iowa enjoy a very competitive tax rate and other benefits. For all the upsides of the market in the state, restrictions on events like elections betting could be its weakness.

Like prop bets on college athletes’ performances and player entry drafts, gambling laws in Iowa make such wagers impermissible. Although the action might bring in a lot of revenue, there are mitigating concerns that justify the status quo.

Why elections betting won’t happen any time soon at legal sportsbooks in Iowa

According to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, state law will not allow operators to post markets for elections. If a casino or sportsbook attempted to do so, it would risk a fine and/or losing its license.

The only way that could ever change is for the IA government to act upon the issue. The legislature and the governor would have to agree upon a bill that would alter the current law.

The big issue with that is there’s little incentive for IA legislators to push for such a bill. Gaming operators in the state aren’t lobbying for such a change, and there are no other interests active on that front, either.

If a lot of other states, especially those that neighbor IA, start legalizing such wagers, that may supply the necessary pressure. So far, however, no state with legal gambling has authorized such wagers, permanently that is.

West Virginia did for a short time but quickly rescinded that permission. The issue there was similar to IA’s interpretation of the state’s laws on which events are and aren’t defined as acceptable wagers.

While the lack of pressure from interested parties is certainly a factor, there are other considerations. They may override any perceptions of how much revenue markets for presidential elections may bring in.

Why elections betting might not be worth the financial benefit in Iowa or any other state

First off, there are unanswered questions. Could markets on elections influence how people vote? Could odds on elections influence which candidates’ campaigns get the most funding? Because there’s little research on these topics, these questions are relevant.

At the same time, no studies can be done to answer those questions without these markets existing. There is no doubt that the markets would attract a lot of action and bring a lot of revenue to jurisdictions.

However, just the fact that they exist may erode voter confidence in election integrity. Faith in public institutions and the integrity of states’ voting systems could be commodities that states can’t put a price tag on.

On the other hand, like how wagering drives interest in sports, markets on elections may drive voter turnout. The question that arises, however, is whether voters are casting ballots for the best candidates or merely to have their bets pay out.

Because these implications load these questions, states outlaw such wagers. For that to ever change, it will take a lot of research and resulting measures to ensure that the activity doesn’t result in undesired consequences.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. 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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