March Madness Betting Drives Iowa Sportsbooks To Record $161.4M Handle

Written By Russ Mitchell on April 8, 2021

Iowa bettors and sportsbook operators waited a full year, but they finally had a chance to experience the potent combination of remote registration and the NCAA Tournament in 2021.

Madness, indeed.

Iowa bettors crushed a single-month betting record with a $161.4 million handle for the month of March, according to numbers released Thursday by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC).

The previous record was a $149.5 million handle in January.

February was also strong and just missed a single-month record with a $143.6 million handle.

Iowa sports betting numbers for March 2021

LicenseeOnline Brand(s)HandleOnline HandleRetail HandleRevenueTaxes (6.75%)
Diamond Jo - DubuqueFanDuel | BetMGM$28,975,118$28,158,844$816,274$1,935,678$130,658
Wild Rose - JeffersonDraftKings | BetRivers$20,643,902$20,516,133$127,769$1,651,682$111,489
Prairie MeadowsWilliam Hill$19,278,760$18,119,248$1,159,512$1,336,965$90,245
Diamond Jo - WorthFanDuel | BetMGM$13,808,858$9,507,074$4,301,784$1,756,703$118,577
Isle - WaterlooWilliam Hill$13,080,764$12,634,024$446,740$427,572$28,861
Wild Rose - ClintonDraftKings | BetRivers$12,821,506$12,571,704$249,802$1,082,722$73,084
Wild Rose - EmmetsburgDraftKings | BetRivers$10,812,167$10,598,247$213,920$956,185$64,542
HorseshoeWilliam Hill$10,055,998$7,262,180$2,793,818$461,358$31,142
AmeristartheScore Bet$7,457,406$1,844,702$5,612,704$853,654$57,622
Catfish BendPointsBet$6,042,264$5,669,364$372,900$766,467$51,736
LakesideWilliam Hill$3,061,385$2,550,636$510,749$368,749$24,891
Rhythm CityElite$2,888,850$2,256,002$632,848$348,536$23,526
Isle - BettendorfWilliam Hill$2,885,879$2,405,405$480,474$290,776$19,627
Grand FallsElite | Betfred$2,634,791$972,398$1,662,393$448,714$30,288
Hard RockHard Rock$1,591,957$788,207$803,750$185,843$12,544
Q CasinoQ Sportsbook$1,318,450$350,279$968,171$123,387$8,184
Harrah'sWilliam Hill$1,161,139$928,698$232,441$109,709$7,405

Iowa sportsbooks managed a $19.6 million handle for the same month a year ago, but any March 2020 to March 2021 comparisons wouldn’t be a true comparison, of course. Public health officials canceled college basketball conference tournaments mid-bracket and even mid-game. March Madness fell by the wayside.

For this year, sportsbook contacts with knowledge in other states told IRGC Administrator Brian Ohorilko to expect March 2021 numbers “akin to what we would see through the NFL playoffs. If that is indeed the case, then it’s exciting to think about,” the administrator said before Thursday’s numbers were released.

Bettors in Iowa could also pair their sportsbook action with some local interest. The state of Iowa put multiple teams into March Madness for just the 15th time in 36 tournaments under the modern format of 64 (now 68) teams.

Drake was the state’s “David” and won a First Four game over Wichita State 53-52. Iowa was the state’s “Goliath.” The top 10 Hawkeyes earned a 86-74 win over Grand Canyon. Both teams lost in the next round, however.

Iowa’s daily betting pace also sets new record

Betting in the 31 days of March averaged $5.2 million per day, which was up from the previous record of $5.1 million in February. Iowa’s decision to embrace online registration led a torrid start to the year.

Ohorilko talked about the changes in betting habits since remote registration became available in 2021.

From August 2019 through December 2020, the state had required customers to visit a casino for sportsbook registrations. Because of this, sportsbooks prioritized casino relationships based on population centers and geography.

William Hill and its six retail sportsbooks had the early advantage when sports betting became legal in Iowa.

However, when the in-person registration requirement ended, marketing replaced maps and leveled out the betting field, according to the IRGC administrator:

“Specifically, a number of our customers in Iowa had one, maybe two apps. They were limited to what was close to their market. With the pandemic, a number of people were just not traveling, so they got familiar with the apps they downloaded initially.

“As we’ve seen in January and February, with record numbers, it really has shown that customers are wanting to have more than one option. They’re finding different apps they like and different wagers they like. Different promotional offerings are attracting customers to certain websites — that is also a factor. It does appear that at least through numbers and conversations that I’ve had with some of the online sportsbooks, the customers have wanted a couple of apps or options for their wagering. So, that’s one thing we’ve seen.”

William Hill remains on top among Iowa sportsbooks

Currently, the state receives numbers from Iowa’s 19 casinos to compile Thursday’s monthly report. However, since many of those casinos carry more than one sportsbook skin, it’s harder to for the industry to see how each book is performing. That makes industry tracking more difficult in Iowa.

Here’s what we know from the March totals:

  • William Hill: $49.5 million and 31% of handle
  • BetRivers/DraftKings: $44.3 million and 27% of handle*
  • FanDuel/BetMGM: $42.8 million and 26% of the handle**

*BetRivers and DraftKings both operate under the Wild Rose casinos’ licenses in Iowa.

*FanDuel/BetMGM operate under the Diamond Jo casinos’ licenses.

Ohorilko acknowledges media and industry interest in sportsbook-based revenue breakdowns. He explained why sports betting numbers are currently reported by casino location:

“Initially in Iowa, the reporting was done on a per-facility basis because the facilities are responsible for the tax dollars. In addition, there is a requirement for the nonprofits to get a portion of all the revenue. Really, the reporting has to be tracked back to a particular location, so we know who pays the taxes in each county where the nonprofit resides. Those are some statutory requirements. And we need to make sure that we can trace that revenue back.”

Iowa considers revenue report upgrade

Casinos could report numbers by the sportsbook in the future, according to Ohorilko.

“We are currently looking at a way to change how we’re reporting so that people can get a better idea on a per-company basis on what revenue is. The fiscal year changes over on July 1. So, we’re kind of hoping that we can have our revenue reporting system updated.”

Iowa sportsbooks held over $13,454,156. The state also brought in a tax haul of $908,009. Ohorilko says people enjoy looking at sportsbook revenue, but he calls it a “much smaller piece of the overall gaming pie.”

“We’re still running in a place where sports betting is under 5% of the overall wagering dollar — and that’s normal. That’s what we see in other states. Increased revenue is helpful. It’s helpful for nonprofits, it’s helpful from a tax standpoint, but it really is not a major factor.

“We have seen increased revenue and I think it’s reasonable to say that customers — if they want to wager on sports —they are doing it right now, through a legal licensed and regulated entity. That’s kind of playing out right now with record numbers the last two months and we anticipated another good month here in March.”

Photo by Paul Sancya / AP
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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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