Iowa Sports Betting: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly So Far

Written By JR Duren on February 28, 2020
Iowa lottery

Iowa is no longer simply the domain of cornfields and Hawkeye football.

The conservative stalwart in the middle of America’s heartland was among the states to launch online, mobile and retail sports betting the quickest.

It launched all three platforms less than eight months after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill that legalized sports betting.

Iowa’s launch had highlights and lowlights, the most notable of which we’ll cover here.


The good: Iowa sports betting launched fast, taxed low

It took little more than four months for the state to go from legalizing sports betting to launching its retail and mobile platform. This turnaround time is incredible.

For comparison’s sake, the following states legalized sports betting in 2019 but have yet to launch online, mobile or retail platforms:

  • Tennessee: Legalized in May 2019, possibly launching this summer
  • North Carolina: Legalized for tribal gaming in July 2019, no launch yet
  • Illinois: Legalized in June 2019, no launch yet
  • Mississippi: Legalized in 2017, mobile sports betting yet to launch
  • Montana: Legalized in May 2019, yet to launch
  • Michigan: Legalized in Dec. 2019, yet to launch
  • Colorado: Legalized in Nov. 2019, yet to launch

In fact, of the nine states that legalized sports betting in 2019, Iowa was the fastest to launch retail and mobile.

Furthermore, Iowa lawmakers chose to charge low fees for sports betting licenses ($45,000).

They allowed one retail and two online licenses, too. Cheap licenses and multiple skins make it easy for most casinos to jump on board.


The bad: No prop bets for college sports

In a state where Iowa football and basketball have put together an impressive run of success, gamblers cannot put wagers on in-game action.

This restriction cuts into the handle casinos take, particularly in December when the Iowa football team is gunning for a major bowl.

The ban on in-game bets will no doubt be a handle-killer for Iowa basketball.

The team is 19-9 and projected by many to earn a seed in the top half of the NCAA Tournament.

Northern Iowa is in the mix this year, too. At the time of publishing, ESPN currently has the team seeded 11th.

The general sentiment about the ban on in-game prop bets is that lawmakers had to appease legislators who wanted to ban all betting on NCAA games and matches.


The bad: Stagnant revenue

Iowa struggled to create revenue growth in November and December. The likely explanation of the struggle to generate bigger wins in traditionally big sports betting months is simple: regulations.

The two main culprits are the ban on in-game prop bets for college games and the in-person sign-up requirement when making an online or mobile bet for the first time.

While the latter, which we explain in the next section, ends on Jan. 1, 2021, the former won’t.

And so, for at least one more year, casinos won’t be able to generate the revenue they’d like to in November and December.


The ugly: In-person requirement for online sign-up

Perhaps one of the most peculiar wrinkles to the wave of state-level sports betting legalization came from Iowa.

In what was considered a favor to casinos, lawmakers chose to include in the law that first-time online sports bettors have to register an online account at a casino.

So, when Iowans and people in neighboring states went to their phones to place bets on the Super Bowl, they couldn’t.

The in-person requirement was likely the culprit behind Iowa’s abysmal sub-$7 million handle for the big game.

The in-person clause is in effect until New Year’s Day 2021.

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