Harrah’s, Horseshoe Council Bluffs Dip Toes Into Online Sports Betting Water

Posted on July 17, 2020 - Last Updated on February 11, 2021

Iowa’s online and retail sports betting options are set to expand again.

Two Iowa casinos, Harrah’s Council Bluffs and Horseshoe Council Bluffs, decided to step into the sports betting pond recently.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) approved operator agreements between the casinos’ owner, Harvey’s Management Iowa, and two sports betting brands.

One of those contracts will bring Unibet Sportsbook to the Hawkeye State.

Details of the deals for Harrah’s and Horseshoe Council Bluffs

On July 9, the IRGC approved Harvey’s contracts with Unibet and William Hill sportsbooks. Currently, Harrah’s and Horseshoe casinos offer retail wagering under their own branding.

William Hill is already licensed to offer online betting in Iowa and does so under the auspices of multiple casinos in the state. The partnership with William Hill will benefit Iowa bettors, although temporary.

Since IA bettors have to register for online sportsbook accounts in person for the remainder of the year, the William Hill partnership gives bettors another place to complete that process.

It’s unclear how soon either Harvey’s property will be ready to facilitate sportsbook registrations. The same goes for Unibet.

Unibet’s launch may be longer, however, as it has not yet applied for licensure in Iowa. To date, the online sportsbook is being tight-lipped. Unibet may plan to wait until the in-person registration requirement expires. It wouldn’t be the only brand that is playing a waiting game in IA.

Will the new year bring new betting options in IA?

Another prominent sports betting brand, FanDuel, only operates in Iowa on a retail basis. FanDuel has been mum on when it plans to start accepting wagers online in IA.

The sportsbook may also be waiting for the in-person registration requirement to expire. Moreover, it may not feel the market in Iowa is worth the cost of admission.

William Hill has established itself as the dominant player in the online IA sports betting scene. Last month, over 57% of online handle in IA ran through William Hill.

Disrupting that landscape for FanDuel or Unibet will require a significant amount of capital. Both brands may not be overly anxious to do that in a market that accounted for just $58.02 million in handle in January.

Iowa’s dense and small population, plus lack of professional sports teams, do nothing to augment its case. The current COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t help, either.

Fragile circumstances give cause for caution

The pandemic affects the sports betting industry in IA in two ways. First, it controls the menu of sporting events available for wagering and secondly, affects the status of IA casinos.

For the better part of three months, only those who registered their online wagering accounts prior to March 16 could legally place wagers in IA because the state’s casinos were closed.

Positive tests for the coronavirus in IA are rising, hitting a state record of 916 new cases on July 10. Should that trend continue, casinos closing again could be on the horizon.

Other similar trends nationwide may affect the sporting events that sportsbooks rely upon as well. For example, the status of college football is unknown, with the Big Ten Conference already curtailing its schedule.

These fluid situations may give Unibet reasons to take a wait-and-see approach. It has already cleared the first necessary regulatory hurdle, so Iowans may eventually have access to the sportsbook.

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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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