Gov. Kim Reynolds so far isn't saying whether she'll sign a bill to legalize sports betting in Iowa finished its journey through the Iowa General Assembly Monday.
The measure passed the state’s House Monday on a 67-31 vote, after clearing the Senate last week 31-18. It allows betting on most sporting events through Iowa’s 19 state-regulated casinos. Three of them are just across the river from Omaha, in Council Bluffs.
It also permits betting through fantasy sports web sites like FanDuel and DraftKings.
Reynolds, a Republican, has declined throughout the legislative session to say whether she supports the expansion of gambling. She told reporters Tuesday she’ll read the bill and review the matter with her policy team before deciding whether to sign it.
The bill places authority over sports betting with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which regulates the state’s casinos. If Reynolds signs it, Iowans could legally place sports bets as early July 4, if a regulatory framework is set up by then. Commission administrator Brian Ohorilko said it is more likely that legal betting would begin in August.
Under the law, betting would be allowed on most professional, college and international sporting events. Bettors would need to be 21 or older. The State of Iowa would profit from a 6.75% tax on net receipts.
Out-of-state bettors, including Nebraskans, could download apps permitting them to place bets using their cellphones. But they would have to be within Iowa’s borders when they do so.
On Monday, the Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington announced a deal with an Australian betting firm to open the first sports betting in the state once wagering is fully legalized.
If the bill becomes law, Iowa would become the ninth state to authorize sports betting since a U.S. Supreme Court decision last May ended Nevada’s longtime monopoly on sports betting. Last year, New Jersey, Delaware, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Arkansas and New Mexico legalized some form of sports wagering.
Montana has also passed a bill that needs only its governor's signature to become law.
Nebraska remains on the other side of the sports betting issue. Aside from a bill to regulate commercial fantasy sports, no sports betting legislation was introduced in the Nebraska Legislature this year.
The state’s shrinking horse industry would like to see sports betting in Nebraska because betting in Iowa represents yet more competition for Nebraskans’ gambling dollars. A 2013 study estimated that Nebraskans spend $327 million a year on legal forms of gambling in Iowa, including casinos, horse racing, greyhound racing and the state’s lottery.
“Iowa is progressive. They have capitalized on the fact that Nebraska doesn’t have gambling,” Mike Newlin, general manager of Horsemen’s Park on Q Street, told The World-Herald in February. “And they’ve reaped the rewards.”
But opponents of expanded gambling — including Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts — say it carries with it significant social costs, including gambling addiction.
“If you look at the things that go along with gambling, for every dollar you collect in tax revenue, you spend three in social services,” Ricketts said last year.
Iowa has been receptive to legalized gambling since the state first legalized pari-mutuel betting in 1983. The first casinos opened on Mississippi River boats in 1991.
Iowa casino revenue amounted to about $1.44 billion in 2017.
Still, there has been opposition to the sports betting bill, some of it vocal.
"This is an exercise in greed, avarice if you will, and it troubles me greatly that we’re going to create new addicts,” said Rep. Scott Ourth, a Democrat from the south central Iowa town of Ackworth. "Every society that does this creates an enormous mountain of social ills."
Neither support nor opposition to the bill has fallen along party lines. 38 Republicans voted yes, while 16 voted no. Among Democrats, 29 supported the bill and 15 opposed it, the Sioux City Journal reported.
The bill's main House sponsor, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican, said the bill will allow those who need it to give help, and give those who wish to bet on sports the freedom do so legally.
"We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can make this go away," Kaufmann said. "Sticking our head in the sand is not option. Hoping that people get help when they’re placing bets in dark alleys with bookies whose collection method is a threat to kneecap you isn’t good for anybody.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.