Iowa’s Online Casino Bill Advances But Isn’t Going Anywhere This Year

Written By Matthew Kredell on February 4, 2022 - Last Updated on July 22, 2022

Iowa’s online casino bill took one small step for Kaufmann but won’t be making a giant leap for Iowans.

An online casino bill introduced by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann advanced through a subcommittee of the House State Government Committee on Wednesday.

But Kaufmann tells PlayIA that will be the final stop for House Study Bill 604 this year. And the move through subcommittee was merely meant to help build future momentum for the issue.

Kaufmann explained:

“It’s a multiyear effort. I wanted to get it through subcommittee as a step forward from last year, but that’s the furthest I expect it to go. I just wanted to get the public engaged and get some media attention so we can continue to push the topic and debate forward.”

Casino divide sinks Iowa iGaming effort

Kaufmann added that the bill won’t have legs until all Iowa casinos get behind it.

“We need to get all the casinos on board,” Kaufmann said. “Until that happens, the chances of it passing are zero.”

Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, told PlayIA that 13 Iowa casinos support online casino legalization and six oppose. As a result, the IGA is neutral on the issue.

Why would casinos oppose adding online component?

Iowa casinos already offer gambling online with sports betting, and it’s a big money-maker for them.

Kaufmann authored HSB 604 to provide casinos another revenue source. The bill doesn’t refer to it as online casino gaming but rather advance deposit gambling.

Industry-friendly details of the bill include:

  • Licenses only for existing pari-mutuel racetracks and excursion gambling boats or structures.
  • A modest $45,000 initial licensing fee renewable annually for $10,000.
  • Allows each licensee to offer up to two individually branded mobile apps.
  • Provides the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission flexibility to authorize a third skin.
  • Allows agreements for multijurisdictional online games when allowed under state and federal laws.

Ehrecke previously provided PlayIA with a couple reasons why some casinos oppose the bill. Some of the resort casinos feel at-home casino betting would lessen food, entertainment and lodging revenue.

Kaufmann said his impression was that national casino companies favored online casino while Iowa-based companies were hesitant. And he still heard about fears of cannibalization.

Ehrecke countered that some Iowa-based companies support the effort.

“All I know is there were enough opponents that weren’t going to change this year,” Ehrecke said. “More than likely there will be more of a discussion in the future.”

Additional gaming bill does have casino support

Another gaming bill advanced through subcommittee Thursday, and this one might have legs. The difference is it’s supported by all Iowa casinos and their association.

Kaufmann introduced HSB 578 at the behest of the Iowa Gaming Association. The bill includes a variety of gambling changes wanted by casinos:

  • Allow wagering on e-sports.
  • Expand authorized sports wagers to include player awards such as the Heisman Trophy, the NFL Draft and charitable sports events.
  • Allow patrons to use eWallets on mobile phones to pay for gaming on the casino floor.
  • Stop fines on errors made by casino employees in checking jackpots against debts owed to the state and self-exclusion programs.
  • Remove licensing requirements for non-gaming personnel in hospitality positions.

While supported by all casinos, faith-based organizations opposed the bill in subcommittee. They mainly take issue with allowing cashless wagering through eWallets.

The bill now sits in the full Committee on State Government, which Kaufmann chairs. It needs to advance from the committee by Feb. 18 to have a chance to pass this session.

Ehrecke expects Sen. Roby Smith, Kaufmann’s Senate counterpart, to lead the legislation in that chamber.

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Matthew Kredell

Kredell has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Kredell started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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