After four straight months of a decline in sports betting handle, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC)’s latest sports wagering report showed a positive uptick in August.
Since April, the state’s sports betting handle had continuously dropped. That month, Iowa saw $177.3 million in sports betting handle. That number dropped to $148 million in May, $122.4 million in June, and $108 million in July.
According to IRGC administrator Brian Ohorilko, this trend isn’t anything out of the ordinary.
“It’s very natural,” Ohorilko said. “In fact, the trend that we saw this calendar year was the exact same trend that we saw in 2021… I think, at least at this point, the market has been trending to a very similar fashion to what we saw in 2021.”
Even despite the four-month dip in sports betting handle, Iowa’s numbers were up each month compared to their respective months in 2021.
This past month was a $13.4 million increase in handle from August 2021. Even July, which bottomed out with a handle of $108,556,796.13, still performed better than July 2021, increasing year-to-year by roughly $18.6 million.
Why are those sports betting handle numbers up?
Ohorilko believes a couple of factors contribute. One is the increase in operators. Each year, more sportsbooks are licensed within the state. Iowa just added its 18th sportsbook in August.
Additionally, he believes the uptick was due to market maturity. Iowa is two months into the Fiscal Year 2023, its fourth year of legal sports betting.
Let’s dig deeper into some of the numbers.
Football ‘drives the market’ for Iowa sports betting
Football is king in Iowa. Especially when it comes to sports betting.
Ohorilko said the IRGC does not keep specific data on a per-sport basis, but he believes football, both at the college and professional level, “drives the market.”
Looking at FY22, the months where football was in-season reigned supreme. FY22’s highest handles spanned from October 2021 to January 2022. Each month boasted a sports betting handle of more than $266 million, with January racking up $303.3 million.
That number dropped in February to $215 million, despite the Super Bowl. Ohorilko continued:
“Even though it’s the Super Bowl, we still see there are not as many games or events. People are interested in wagering on the Super Bowl, but some of that also depends on who’s participating, with respect to the market.
When we have local teams that are having more success, we see those numbers be a little better. We see that bump again in March with the conference tournaments for basketball and the NCAA Tournament.”
March 2022 saw roughly an $18 million increase in sports betting handle after February.
Interesting trends for online sportsbooks in Iowa
William Hill was the first major sportsbook to launch in Iowa back in 2020. It was subsequently bought by Caesars, but it controlled the market early on. In turn, American Wagering Inc., the licensing company that does business with Caesars, saw the highest sports betting handle since then.
That might be changing, though.
It’s early in FY23 – just two months in – but Ohorilko pointed out that so far, American Wagering is not the leader in sports betting handle for online operators.
In August, Crown Iowa Gaming LLC (DraftKings) led the state with a handle of $33,198,301.97. Betfair Interactive US LLC (FanDuel) had the second-highest handle, clocking in at $29,321,000.70. American Wagering was third with a handle of $22,107,034.36.
“(Caesars’) gap was slowly closing, but that could be for any number of reasons,” Ohorilko explained.
“That could be because of popularity or the quality of apps, but it could also be advertising. There’s no question that the entities that have the most handle, not only in Iowa but most states, typically have the highest advertising budgets as well.
How does the rest of the year project?
Overall, Iowa’s sports betting industry has been on the rise since 2020.
That year, the sports betting handle was $368,015,638.62. That number jumped by nearly $1 billion in FY21, when the handle rose to $1,218,453,191.71. From FY21 to FY22, that number doubled, booming to $2,455,209,849.12.
“In the jurisdictions that went before Iowa, from years three to four, the majority of those jurisdictions have seen an increase in that year,” Ohorilko said. “Those increases range, but in some jurisdictions, there’s an increase of 30-40% from year three to year four.”
Ohorilko added that the IRGC has seen around a 15-25% increase in sports betting handle year over year in particular months.
“I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect that we’ll see higher numbers this fall and winter than what we saw last year,” he said