Chiefs Help Iowa Sportsbooks Overcome Restrictive Regulations On Super Bowl Sunday

Written By Derek Helling on February 13, 2020
Iowa Super Bowl handle

The first Sunday in February was super for Hawkeye State sportsbooks despite the state’s best efforts to hamper it. Iowa Super Bowl handle for the first time since the state legalized sports wagering wasn’t too shabby.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission reported that Iowa residents and visitors placed over $6.5 million in bets on Super Bowl LIV. While that number may be great for just one event, it really could have been better.

Iowa Super Bowl handle influenced by several factors

Buoying the interest in betting on the biggest game of the NFL season was the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs — who play their home games in neighboring Missouri — represented the AFC in the contest. The Kansas City area is just about a three-hour drive from Iowa’s capital.

While there would have been great interest in Super Bowl LIV regardless of which two teams were playing, the proximity factor likely gave handle a bump. It also likely helped that as of right now, none of Iowa’s neighboring states like Missouri offer legal wagering.

While it’s not clear how many Missourians crossed the border into Iowa to place bets, it’s hard to imagine Iowa’s total would have been the same if people in Missouri could legally place wagers within their state of residence. The same goes for bettors from Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Online handle likely saw the biggest bump from out-of-state bettors. Therein lies a Catch-22, however. That facet of the action could have been a lot bigger if not for a poor choice by the state.

How Iowa’s regulations work against sportsbooks’ interests

Until New Year’s Day 2021, Iowa requires first-time users of online sportsbooks to complete their account registrations in person. It was a concession made to casino operators in the state when Iowa legalized sports betting last year.

While billed as a security measure to ensure bettors are of age and not on the state’s self-exclusion list, it’s really nothing more than a device that forces sportsbook customers to visit casinos. The hope is that while they’re there to show their identification, they will deposit funds or patronize the casinos in other ways.

Because of that requirement, the action has suffered in the state. Most people who place bets using illegal channels can do so online without having to visit a casino.

While it’s just a one-time requirement, it still discourages such bettors from changing their habits. That’s especially true if they don’t live close to the casino that partners with the sportsbook they want to use.

As Iowa is sparsely populated and most casinos are near the few densely populated towns, that’s a real issue in the Hawkeye State. To demonstrate how much, compare the handle in other states without this requirement.

How Iowa compared to the other states for the big game

New Jersey and Pennsylvania did many times what Iowa did on Super Bowl Sunday. The Garden State took in nearly $55 million while the Keystone State pulled almost $31 million.

While there are a lot of differences between Iowa and those markets besides the lack of an in-person registration requirement, that’s one key point of differentiation. Considering the lack of competing markets around the state and the Chiefs’ involvement in the game, it isn’t crazy to think that Iowa’s handle could have approached the $10 million mark.

Fortunately for Iowa sportsbooks, the in-person registration requirement will expire before Super Bowl LV. By that time, however, Illinois’ sportsbooks will be up and running.

Iowa sportsbooks’ first shot at Super Bowl Sunday wasn’t bad, but it could have been better. It’s a lesson for other states that have yet to legalize within their borders.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. 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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