No Bets For You: Why Can’t Iowa Sportsbooks Take Wagers On The NBA Draft?

Posted on November 18, 2020

With the start of the 2020-21 NBA season delayed, Iowa basketball fans are likely looking forward to Wednesday night’s player selection event. However, NBA Draft betting still isn’t an option in Iowa, despite the event’s notoriety.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have the first overall selection and the Chicago Bulls pick fourth. Regardless, IA bettors won’t be able to wager any money on the event.

Why there’s no Iowa NBA Draft betting

Online and retail sports betting for those 21 years or older, not on any self-exclusion lists and using licensed sportsbooks is completely legal in Iowa. So, when you visit a sports betting app or website such as FanDuel IA, why is the “NBA Draft” tab blank?

You can blame the state government. When they enacted the latest gambling expansion law, it included a special provision for player selection events, e.g., the NBA Draft. The language of that provision effectively bans such wagers.

There’s no doubt that operators, such as DraftKings and William Hill would offer markets on the draft if they could. They do so in neighboring Illinois, for example.

For that reason, the prohibition on this type of event doesn’t make much sense. Unfortunately, it also may not change anytime soon.

Why everyone involved is worse off

It’s difficult to understand the reasoning behind this ban. For one thing, the idea of protecting the integrity of the event doesn’t hold much water.

To fix the results of this event, bettors would have to convince at least one NBA franchise to forego its best interest on the court and, therefore, the bottom line to select who a bettor or group of bettors want. In order to make that even make sense financially for an NBA team, the incentive would likely have to be tens of millions of dollars at least.

It’s highly unlikely any sportsbook would take a wager of that size on an NBA Draft long-shot. Such a proposal would likely set off all the red flags.

In light of that information, it looks like the state is giving up tax revenue for no reason. Additionally, there’s little reason to believe that because it’s illegal for licensed IA operators to accept these wagers, bettors in IA are punting on the event.

The best-case scenario is they’re crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois to place legal wagers on the draft there. What’s more likely, however, is that Iowans are betting on the event using bookies and offshore websites.

So how might IA eventually stop losing out on revenue it’s missing from no NBA Draft bets, along with help its regulated market continue to grow? The answer isn’t easy, but it is simple.

When you make up the rules, you can change them

To correct this mistake, it would just take an amendment to the state’s gambling law. A bill to repeal the language barring such bets should be a slam-dunk, given the benefits.

However, it’s not a foregone conclusion. Matters like controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery may take precedence in Des Moines.

Proponents of such a change could sell a bill to this end as part of economic recovery. However, no one did so after the 2020 NFL Draft, which suggests no state lawmakers have yet put two and two together.

Demand from Iowa gamblers could prompt action. If you’re a legal resident of IA, you can find and contact your state representatives.

It’s unfortunate, but when the ESPN broadcast of the 2020 NBA Draft starts at 7 p.m. CST Wednesday, customers of legal Iowa sportsbooks won’t be watching to see how their bets fare. For those books, not being able to offer markets on the event is unfair.

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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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