Esports Betting Prospects Powered Down In Iowa After Commission Ruling

Posted on June 12, 2020 - Last Updated on June 15, 2020

Bettors in Iowa who want to wager upon League of Legends or Overwatch League events will have to look elsewhere for the foreseeable future. The Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission (IRGC) has spoken on esports betting.

On Thursday, the IRGC denied the request of the Iowa Gaming Association to add esports to the list of approved events for legal sportsbooks in Iowa. There is still hope, however.

Why the IRGC denied esports betting

Members of the IRGC met in Larchwood on Thursday, nearly two months after they last met via teleconference. In April, the commissioners faced the same question and voted to shelve it and conduct further study.

During the break, the Iowa commission sought the opinion of IA Attorney General Tom Miller on whether esports fit the definition of allowable events for wagering in the state’s gambling law. A liaison for Miller’s office testified during Thursday’s meeting and, in his opinion, that is not the case.

For that reason, the IRGC denied the gaming association’s request. The commission did offer a “consolation prize” of sorts to esports enthusiasts in the state, however.

Alongside the association’s request was a similar plea by DraftKings. DraftKings asked the IRGC to approve esports for daily fantasy sports contests in April.

The AG’s liaison specified that in terms of the law on DFS, esports jibed with it. The commission’s vote followed suit, giving companies with appropriate licenses the leeway to offer fantasy contests on esports in Iowa.

It’s uncertain when those companies will make such games available and which leagues they will include. Popular leagues for DFS in other states include CS:GO and Dota 2.

While the result of the meeting is disappointing for IA sports betting app providers, it’s not the end of the road. The association is simply going to the next level of the hierarchy.

Summoning aid in Des Moines

The best course of action now is to change the legal framework to include esports. The IGA intends to petition Iowa legislators toward that end.

Other states, such as Colorado, explicitly included esports in its sports betting laws. It seems that legal wagering on esports in Iowa will require similar language in the state’s gambling laws.

The easiest way to circumvent the issue would be for the IA Legislature to amend Section 99 of the state code. Following the pattern of other states, it could simply add esports to the existing language.

The IRGC would then only have room to determine which specific esports events fit other parameters. Those include the presence of a governing body and whether or not participants are minors.

IGA President Wes Ehrecke expressed hope that the IA Legislature could address the issue in the current session. He acknowledged time is short, but said that, at worst, the IGA could get the issue on legislators’ agendas for the next session in January.

The sportsbook infrastructure vendor Kambi said the number of esports bets placed on its global network was up 236% in March of this year as compared with the same month in 2019. While the lack of traditional sports played a role in that growth, this decision effectively cuts IA sportsbooks and their partners out of that situation.

Iowans who desire to bet on esports legally without leaving their state can augment the IGA’s efforts by contacting their representatives and making their wishes known. The introduction of esports DFS may whet Iowans’ appetites for more.

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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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