What A Difference 2 Years Makes: Iowa Sports Betting Market Celebrates Second Anniversary

Written By Russ Mitchell on August 16, 2021
iowa betting two year anniversary

Legal sports betting in Iowa is celebrating its second anniversary, and the industry has enough of a tailwind to blow out the candles in 2021.

Iowa became the 11th state to allow sports wagering on Aug. 15, 2019. The first few weeks looked nothing like what Iowa sports bettors enjoy today.

Back then, only 13 of the state’s 19 casinos were set up to take bets by the end of that first month. And, only seven of those casinos were equipped to set up remote betting accounts.

The total sports betting handle in Iowa during that inaugural month of betting?

About $8.6 million.

Up until the start of 2021, customers had to visit a casino to register for an online sportsbook in Iowa. Now it’s possible to set up an Iowa sportsbook account from anywhere within the state.

According to Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association (IGA), Iowa lawmakers took both a competitive and cautious approach:

“To have registrations in person for 18 months was part of getting a great bill passed. Once (online registration) opened up, a lot of things were already established … We saw it certainly with a lot of advertising.”

Iowa sports betting policy set up success

Now, Iowa sports betting operators have agreements in 18 of the state’s 19 casinos.

Companies from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the US have access agreements for a share of the Iowa market. The state has a dozen online sportsbooks. Another dozen sportsbooks could go live in Iowa in the next six months or so.

Since legal sports wagering went live in 2019, Iowa has:

  • Collected about $1.7 billion in sports wagers through Iowa sportsbooks and casinos, according to monthly reports from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
  • Generated $122.8 million in revenue from those bets.
  • Created an $8.3 million tax source for the state of Iowa.

This spring, the American Gaming Association (AGA) marked the third anniversary of a Supreme Court decision to overturn PASPA, the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The ruling allows states to decide if they want legal sports wagering in their jurisdictions.

State lawmakers used the first legislative session after the May 2018 PASPA ruling to set the betting framework in Iowa.

Jessica Feil, the AGA’s vice president in charge of government relations and gaming policy, told PlayIA:

“By creating a compelling market and being an early adopter, Iowa is reaping the benefits of legal sports betting. Importantly, it also provides consumers with a safe alternative to the predatory offshore market while delivering important revenue for the state and Iowa communities.”

Ehrecke said the structure of Iowa’s sports wagering laws serve as a model for other states. He called Iowa’s initial legislation “the best bill in the country.”

“We certainly applaud the legislature for their support to get this legalized in Iowa.”

Iowa sports betting bounced back after a pandemic detour

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds closed casinos and other entertainment venues from March 17 to May 31, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some Iowa casinos even closed prior to the governor’s order.

However, previously registered customers could still place mobile or online sports bets early last year. The pandemic pulled many events off of the sports calendar, though.

Ehrecke said:

“Certainly no one could have predicted the pandemic and COVID just shutting everything down right before the Big 12 and Big Ten (basketball) tournaments last year.”

The IGA president and CEO thinks 2021 is creating stronger sports wagering benchmarks as the industry makes year-to-year comparisons.

Here’s a look at handles so far this year:

  • January: $149.5 million
  • February: $143.6 million
  • March: $161.4 million (an all-time, single-month record)
  • April: $118.4 million
  • May: $114.9 million
  • June: $111.2 million
  • July: $88.9 million
  • Total: $887.9 million

July had a seasonal decline, but if August returns to the steady handles of April, May or June, the state should pass $1 billion in sports wagering for the calendar year.

That’s before customers even bet on preseason top 25 teamsIowa State and Iowa. And, the state could reach the billion-dollar mark before customers start to bet on the NFL.

What a difference two years make.

“It really proves that people love to watch sports and wager on sports here in the state — and coming in from surrounding states, too,” Ehrecke said.

Safe, new wagering options could add growth

Ehrecke likes to see the sports wagering growth, but he wants Iowa customers to make safe choices as well. Sportsbooks work with the lawmakers and the IRGC to promote responsible betting:

“Our gaming industry’s always been proactive with ‘betting with your head, not over it’ and other responsible gaming themes. And with mobile apps, someone can limit the amount of time to be on the app. They can limit the amount of dollars, they can spend each day, or even request a timeout for up to three days if they want to. So there are good initiatives like that. And I believe certainly the state and our always advocating: This is intended to be for entertainment.”

The IGA hopes Iowa customers have more betting options following the 2022 legislative session. A few states have more betting choices than Iowa, including esports.

Ehrecke supports sports betting on the pro sports drafts as well. He’d also like to see national awards like the Heisman Trophy or league MVP become a betting option.

“You hopefully build a good fan base of support not only within Iowa, but from surrounding states in giving people premier entertainment choices,” Ehrecke said.

“Competition can and will exist at some point in time, with other states potentially catching up. We just hope they take their time in doing so.”

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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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