Breaking: Governor Signs Iowa Gambling Bill; Includes Cedar Rapids Casino Moratorium

Written By Russ Mitchell on June 17, 2022
Iowa gambling bill

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday signed HF 2497, an Iowa gambling bill that adds new sports bets and blocks new casino licenses for the next two years.

The number of state-operated casinos will remain at 19 until 2024.

The governor’s signature is a blow to Linn County residents and casino developers. They wanted a casino to anchor the proposed $250 million, 160,000-square foot Cedar Crossing entertainment complex and cultural center in Cedar Rapids. Plans called for a 160,000-square-foot venue near Interstate 380 and downtown Cedar Rapids.

Usually, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) has the authority to consider new casino licenses. First, they need to see support at the county level through a yes-or-no election vote. Linn County voters approved casino efforts twice at elections eight years apart:

  • With 61% support, Linn County residents supported plans for an $85 million casino back in 2013. IRGC membership at the time voted not to expand gambling, however.
  • Linn County voters gave developers permission to apply for casino license as part of a Nov. 2, 2021, vote as well. The most-recent measure had 54.7% support.

IRGC wanted to consider Linn County gambling application

The Iowa Legislature added the two-year casino ban as part of an all-in-one gambling package at the very end of the session. The amendment caught the IRGC and Linn County betting advocates off guard.

Iowa Gaming Association (IGA) President and CEO Wes Ehrecke told PlayIA “several members had advocated for a moratorium,” on new casinos. He lobbies the interest of existing casinos including Riverside Casino and Golf Resort. The casino is south of Iowa City and relies on customers who make the  40-mile trip from Cedar Rapids. The Isle Casino Hotel of Waterloo is about 55 miles away.

IRGC vice-chair Daryl Olsen said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” with the decision to freeze license applications. At the group’s June 2 meeting in Emmetsburg he told attendees:

“I truly believe these decisions should stay at the level of commission. But our job is to regulate and not legislate. And so we will continue to regulate. I think one thing: I’m very proud of this commission. We work hard to gather the most information we possibly can. We research things we spend an awful lot of time and energy making sure we understand every topic.”

Iowa gambling bill adds new bets

Even with the governor’s signature, HF 2497 won’t be in place in time to bet on Iowa standout forward Keegan Murray’s spot in the June 23 NBA Draft. But pro sports draft bets should debut as a betting option starting July 1.

Iowa sportsbooks can start taking award bets too. That includes Cy Young winners, the Heisman Trophy recipient or future Super Bowl MVPs.

One last wrinkle allows Iowa bettors to wager on a wider range of charity golf results. The new option might include celebrity participants in The Match golf events, which pop up from time to time.

Another betting option didn’t reach the governor’s desk. The industry wanted to add esports bets to Iowa’s menu. The option was taken out of the final bill to strengthen overall support for the legislation. That means Iowa sportsbooks still can’t offer bets on “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” or “League of Legends” competitions.

Ehrecke recently told PlayIA:

“There was seemingly a fair amount of opposition expressed by groups that are opposed to gaming in general. They felt that this was going to be creating more addiction for younger people. It was just important, as part of a bigger bill, to take out a contentious issue.”

Other highlights in the signed Iowa gambling bill

Now that racing is over at Iowa Greyhound Park, the Wild Rose Casinos in Clinton, Emmetsburg and Jefferson needed a new partner if they wanted to continue pari-mutuel betting. Wild Rose used Iowa Greyhound Association’s license. But that will expire on June 30, now that the dog days are over.

With IRGC approval, casinos can partner with the Iowa Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) for a license instead.

The new law launches eWallet use for customers on the casino floor as well. An eWallet allows customers to move money from a checking or savings account to a casino-compatible, secure money management app.

Casino employees or kiosks then scan your mobile device whenever you want to place a bet.

The bill adds convenience since ATMs are still barred from the casino floor. Some responsible gaming guardrails come with the new payment process.

Lawmakers peeled back some penalties for casinos as part of HF 2497 as well.

  • Currently, Iowa casinos check every casino customer’s win of $1,200 or more. Casinos must hold onto some or all of the windfall if they spot a state debt. The casinos will no longer be fined if there’s an honest data entry error or if customers mislead casino staff.
  • The state also won’t fine casinos if someone from the industry’s voluntary self-exclusion program gets past security.
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Russ Mitchell

Russ Mitchell has been covering news and sports in northwest Iowa since 1997, including 11 years as managing editor for one of the most acclaimed community newspapers in the state. He looks forward to keeping readers up to date on the growing sportsbook industry in Iowa.

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