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Iowa Casinos Online and Gambling Outlook


Once upon a time, it appeared as though Iowa, of all states, might be the first (or among the first) countries to regulate some forms of Internet gambling in the United States. But in more recent years, it appears that efforts to do so have stalled, as lawmakers instead want to see how things go in other states before they make any firm decisions. So for now, the best online casinos in Iowa are still those available via offshore companies. On the live scene, the state hosts an impressive array of casinos, and recent history suggests that there will only be more brought to the state as time goes on.

Pari-Mutuels and Casinos Spread Throughout State

The modern era of gambling expansion in Iowa began in 1983, when the state legislature passed the Pari-Mutuel Wagering Act. This allowed for betting on both horse and dog racing to take place in the state. Two years later, the Iowa Lottery was born, beginning with scratch-off games before expanding into the modern lottery with drawings and multi-state contests that are offered today.

In 1989, the state passed several gaming bills. While some of these had to do with expanding the horse racing industry, the biggest move was the authorization of riverboat casinos. While local referendums were still required before these facilities could open, it was clear that many voters wanted gaming in their communities; that same year, eight counties voted in favor of allowing the operations to open.

By 1991, the first riverboats had opened, and soon even more counties were waiting to get on board. Over the next decade, land-based resorts were also allowed to begin offering gaming, and racetracks were turned into “racinos” with slots and table games.

As a part of Iowa law, the counties that have approved these gambling facilities must occasionally vote in order to renew their approval of local operations. In 2002 and 2010, voters overwhelmingly supported allowing the venues to stay open, with the most recent vote seeing an average of more than 78% of residents support their continued operations.

Today, there are more than 20 casinos spread throughout the state in 17 different counties. Some counties continue to hold referendums from time to time to allow venues to open in their areas, suggesting that the industry’s expansion isn’t quite over just yet.

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iGaming Considered, But Rejected

Right now, there aren’t any regulated online gambling sites in Iowa. There are still overseas sites that offer their games to Iowans, and there are no state laws that make it illegal or criminal to play on sites if you want to. That means that many people in the state play on trustworthy, reputable casino sites on a regular basis, even if those operators aren’t based in the US.

As recently as a couple of years ago, many observers actually thought that Iowa could be at the forefront of an online gaming revolution, as lawmakers there showed a surprising amount of interest in the possibility at an early stage.

After the Justice Department issued an opinion that the Wire Act applied only to sports betting, several states began considering whether they could launch other kinds of online gambling operations. Iowa was one of the first that seriously considered this back in 2012, when the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission issued a study suggesting that there was significant tax revenue out there if online poker was regulated.

It didn’t stop there, either. In 2011, the state Senate passed a bill that would have allowed casinos and racetracks in the state to offer intrastate poker via the Internet. The bill never made it through the state House, but at the time it appeared that there was a real possibility that enough legislators could be brought on board to make online poker in Iowa a reality.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Efforts in 2012 and beyond stalled, with the House in particular showing virtually no interest in the legislation. Lawmakers and gaming officials were largely in favor of a wait and see approach: they would watch what happened in other states for a few years, and then decide what would be best for their own jurisdiction. To this point, there has been no further movement on this issue.

Quiet Discussion Could Suggest Stable Market

Iowa is not a place where any dramatic battles over gambling issues are likely to take place in the near future. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t debates taking place, nor that things won’t ever change in the state.

In 2015, one of the biggest gaming topics to be talked about was fantasy sports. This has been one of the few states that the largest daily fantasy sports sites had refused to operate in, thanks to strong legal limits on prizes players can win and other laws related to fantasy games. At one point during the year, a law that would have defined fantasy sports as a game of skill appeared to be making headway in the legislature, but as DFS in general became more controversial, so did the measure, which will likely be considered again in 2016.

Over time, there will likely be more casinos opened in the state, and Iowans may well consider Internet gambling again in the years to come. However, we don’t anticipate any major changes happening anytime soon. This state is certainly ahead of the curve when it comes to iGaming, but even though they may have been among the first to consider the idea, it seems that online casinos in Pennsylvania and California are now much closer to passing regulations at this time.


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