Add Iowa to the list of states that will discuss online gaming legislation next year as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wes Ehrecke, the president and CEO of the Iowa Casino Association, tells PlayIA that Iowa casinos will pitch the idea of online casino gaming to lawmakers next session.
“We have discussed it, and there’s several gaming companies in Iowa who want to pursue legislation to legalize iGaming,” Ehrecke said. “There’s no dissent, but some are more interested than others.”
Casino closures drive interest in Iowa online gambling
The pandemic forced Iowa casinos to close for about 10 weeks. When they reopened June 1, it was at 50% capacity.
Online gaming can add a level of sustainability to the industry in case the virus persists or returns.
“God forbid, casinos had to shut down again. Having iGaming would ensure that they would still be an entertainment amenity generating money for the state,” Ehrecke said.
He added it particularly resonated with him and Iowa casino representatives that online gambling revenue numbers more than doubled in New Jersey while casinos were closed.
Next steps in bringing online casino gambling to Iowa
The Iowa Legislature has adjourned for the year. Lawmakers return to session on Jan. 11, 2021.
Ehrecke believes it will take educating of legislative leaders to bring online gaming to Iowa.
“We don’t have any legislators, like in Indiana, who are willing to introduce the bill at this point. We’ll get some talking points drafted and, probably after the November elections, we’ll continue that dialogue once we know who are the legislative leaders, committee chairs and key people we’d want to work with to further that discussion.”
Sen. Roby Smith sponsored the bill that brought legalized sports betting to Iowa last year. He told PlayIA that he had not considered sponsoring online casino gambling legislation. He said he would look into the issue more after the election.
Generally a conservative state, Iowa is fairly liberal when it comes to gaming.
With 19 casinos in Iowa, the Hawkeye State is second to Nevada among US states in casinos per capita. But the leap to essentially allowing casinos on smartphones could take some convincing with legislators.
“Some look at it as an expansion of gambling while others look at it as an opportunity to have increased consumer protections,” Ehrecke said. “There’s already some precedence in place with sports wagering mobile applications in Iowa that have a lot of the consumer protections that would be expected for this.”
Following lead of other Midwest states
It helps that other Midwest states are either out ahead of Iowa or will join it in the push for online casino gambling.
Michigan legalized online gaming last year along with online sports betting. Internet casino gaming may launch in the state by the end of the year.
“Indiana is kind of looked on as a conservative state as well, so it will be good to watch how someone close to us in the Midwest approaches it and what their bill looks like,” Ehrecke said.
States around the country face significant financial challenges as a result of the pandemic. They will look for revenue opportunities, such as online casino gaming.
“Often times issues like this take more than one year to get passed,” Ehrecke said. “But COVID has changed a lot of norms that makes that difficult to gauge. To be able to discuss how to generate revenue for the state in some of these COVID challenges is a different argument than what was there before.”