Iowa Benefiting Nicely From Gambling

  • Iowa, which has 19 nontribal casinos, recently legalized sports betting
  • The state's total gambling revenues for 2018 were the highest since 2012
  • This is largely due to people having more disposable income, as visitor numbers were actually down
  • State officials hope that legal sports betting will add another $5m to $10m in tax revenues each year
Iowa state flag
Iowa’s gambling revenues in 2018 were the highest since 2012.

Gambling in Iowa

Gambling is structured differently in Iowa than in most other states in the US. Individual counties can decide what type of gambling they have instead of having the state decide for them.

In 1991, a bill was passed giving counties the ability to choose if they wanted casinos. There are now over 19 gambling facilities in the state as well as a number of riverboat casinos.

Three tracks still host horse races. Because horse racing revenues have been declining over recent decades, these facilities are allowed to have slot machines to boost their revenues. Pari-mutuel betting has been allowable in Iowa since 1983.

The state lottery began in 1985 and residents have access to tickets for interstate lotteries like Mega Millions.

While there has been a lot of debate about online gambling in recent times, there has not yet been enough support for any relevant measure to succeed. This is largely due to the significant political influence of Iowa’s tribes. They believe that online gambling would severely affect their revenues from gambling facilities.

Sports betting became legal in Iowa in May after Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law. The new will allow state casinos to offer sports betting in physical locations. In the future, this will likely expand into online sports betting.

Iowa gambling revenues

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission recently issued its 2018 revenue figures. They show that the industry handled about $1.5bn (£1.2bn) for the year. This was their best year since 2012. As a result, tax revenues for the state were almost $322m (£254.5m) from the gambling sector in 2018.

This is impressive because the visitor numbers for the casinos in Iowa were actually down for the year. The economy in the state is getting better, so people have more disposable income. Iowa has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 2.5%.

Those figures are for the non-tribal facilities in Iowa. They show that $1.31bn (£1.04bn) of the revenue came from slot machines and $157m (£124m) from table games. The biggest earner for the year was the Horseshoe Council Bluffs facility, which is operated by Caesars Entertainment. Their facility, which has 60 table games and nearly 1,400 gaming machines, contributed tax revenues of $37.5m (£29.6m). The sole remaining riverboat casino in Iowa, the Ameristar, was next on the list. It contributed $33.4m (£26.4m) in taxes from its 51 slot high limit games and five high-roller tables.

Now that sports betting is legal, the state is hoping for additional tax revenues of between $5m (£3.95m) and $10m (£7.9m) annually once the sector matures in a few years. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which will regulate the sector, is finalizing the new rules and regulations. The plan is to have sports betting up and running by the start of the NFL and college football seasons in the fall.

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