Online casinos can be as safe as Iowa wants them to be.
One of the hang-ups keeping Iowa lawmakers from approving legal online casino gambling is the challenge of making them secure. This is a noble goal. Responsible gambling is a key message of all gambling providers and regulators involved in the activity.
In its simplest terms, responsible gambling means putting your gambling actions in perspective. You should not let gambling control your life. A player should not bet with funds they don’t have. You should see gambling as another form of entertainment, exciting and fun, but with the knowledge that the odds are against you.
Responsible gambling initiatives must be at the core of online gambling in Iowa. There’s no denying the perks that online casinos provide, namely, a boosted revenue stream for operators and the state as a whole from taxes. For the player, it’s incredible convenience, an almost-unlimited library of games to play and the chance to win.
Iowa is still dealing with a sports betting scandal at Iowa and Iowa State. With the right funding and educational efforts, online casinos can create a safe environment for players. Will it ever be 100 percent perfect? No. But Iowa has all the means to try.
Why the responsible gambling message is important for the online space
Online casinos are currently legal in six states. A seventh, Rhode Island, has also approved the activity and expects to launch in 2024.
Originally, there was a fear that online casino revenue would cut into the retail space. That has been disproven. Online casinos enhance and broaden the population of players.
Remember, once upon a time, Major League Baseball owners didn’t want their games broadcast on the radio because they thought no one would come to the stadiums to watch? Turns out that a good product being available to a broader audience increases the audience.
The online casino player, however, skews younger than one at a retail spot. Young people today, Generation Z, grew up with lives in the real world and digital space. They know how to spot a phony online site quickly.
Other players require education about the difference between a regulated online casino and an unregulated one. The easiest way is by looking for the bright RG stamp at the top and bottom of a licensed Iowa site (same as a licensed sportsbook). Unregulated casinos can look just like a regulated one online, but they come with enhanced risk of identity theft and fraud.
New Jersey monitors online play for problems
New Jersey is one of the six states where online casino gambling exists and is flourishing. The Garden State has built an evolving infrastructure to maintain the integrity of online gaming.
The first piece is a self-exclusion system. You’ll hear a lot about these programs all over the country. Basically, the onus is on you, the player. If you feel like your gambling habits have gotten out of control, you can voluntarily sign up for a program that prohibits you from entering a sportsbook or casino.
In 2023, New Jersey went even further, announcing it would be using player data collected by operators to spot problem gaming patterns. You may think this sounds a little Big Brother-ish, but it’s part of the terms and conditions that you agree to when you click and play.
You are being watched.
If a player hits a data point, like their gambling time increases every week, or bets until their account is almost depleted repeatedly, the operator will be notified and steps will be taken to contact the player.
Players at online casinos are also given the options of setting a pre-set deposit and spending limit and a time limit. It’s a built-in safeguard.
What’s the deal in Iowa?
Iowa has similar policies in place. Fifteen of the 19 casinos in Iowa offer a self-exclusion program (it’s incredible that it’s not at all of them). This also covers horse racing and casino table games. You can even exclude yourself from the Iowa Lottery.
Iowa has a great resource for players struggling with gambling habits at yourlifeiowa.org/en/gambling.
There are chat buttons at the top of the page, plus a well-written frequently-asked-questions page about the myths and truths about gambling. There, are beliefs like: “I always seem to win when I wear my lucky socks.”
Sorry, that’s a myth.
The Iowa Department of Public Health maintains The Office of Public Gambling, which has the mission of raising awareness about gambling treatment and prevention services. The Iowa Lottery produces several public service announcements to promote the rules.
The game plan for responsible gambling in Iowa online casinos
Creating a safe space in Iowa for the online gambling industry can be done. All of these things we just talked about will need to be enhanced with greater funding.
If Iowa online casinos become a reality, all these departments need to coalesce on a strategy that targets the players at risk. Ads need to be on TikTok and Instagram, so that the next generation sees it. The language needs to be clear to understand. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, around 1.7 million Iowa residents gambled in 2022, and over 300,000 are considered at risk.
That number will only grow in the online casino space. It will take some work to ensure responsible gambling is at the center of that world, but it’s important work that needs to be done.