Year in Review: A Historic 2019 for Iowa Gambling Industry

Posted on January 2, 2020

There have been some great years for the Iowa gambling industry. With the introduction of legal sports betting, 2019 might be chief among them.

Although the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission hasn’t released final revenue numbers for the year yet, the mere existence of Iowa legal sportsbooks is huge. It may open the door to other forms of legal gambling in the Hawkeye State in years to come as well.

May 13, 2019: A banner day for Iowa gambling

May 13 was the day that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill legalizing sports betting in the Hawkeye State. The law allowed for all 19 of the state’s casinos to open land-based sportsbooks.

The new law also enabled those license holders to offer online betting. It did come with an in-person registration requirement, however.

Casinos were free to partner with third-party operators to actually run their sportsbooks. Because of that, most of the state’s gaming facilities started doing so. Those deals included national brands like PointsBet and William Hill.

Casinos renovated space for retail sportsbooks and got mobile platforms up to code over the following three months. In the middle of August, some of them hit the ground running.

Aug. 15: All systems ‘go’ for launch at some books

Although not all of Iowa’s 19 casinos were ready, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission set Aug. 15 as the first day that Iowa’s legal sportsbooks could start accepting wagers. Thirteen of the online and physical books jumped at the chance.

Only five of the operators reported mobile handle during those last 16 days of August. That number has increased but is still hampered by the aforementioned in-person registration requirement.

Fortunately for Iowa sportsbook operators, that component of Iowa gambling law sunsets on New Year’s Day 2021. Starting in 2021, residents of and visitors to the Hawkeye State will be able to register for Iowa betting apps completely online.

That change could result in tremendous growth for Iowa legal sports betting. That, in turn, could lead to other legal changes down the road.

The best is yet to come for gambling in Iowa

Once the current regulatory restraint expires, the state will get a true sense of the demand for online gaming in Iowa. That includes much more than just the sports wagering vertical.

Online poker, slots and table games are valuable products in other states. As with sports betting, operators in those categories simply await a legislative green light from the state.

If the demand for legal mobile sports betting proves impressive, that could incentivize the Hawkeye State to take the next steps. Though there might be some pushback from the state’s casinos fearing new competition, iGaming could represent a new revenue stream for those willing to adapt.

If that day comes, the gaming options in Iowa could rival those in any other state. It will also allow Iowa to stay ahead of its neighboring states, as Illinois will roll out legal sports betting this year.

Regardless of whether that happens, 2019 is already a year that will go down in Iowa’s gambling history as a significant one. The coming years will decide just how significant 2019 was in the grand scheme.

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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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