Grants funded by tax revenue from sports betting, casinos put on hold indefinitely

Published: Apr. 7, 2020 at 8:54 PM CDT
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Once sports betting was legalized in August of 2019 in Iowa, it became incredibly popular right as football season was about to start. Just weeks ago, sports books like William Hill, which operates out ot the Isle Casino in Waterloo, were preparing for the biggest event on the calendar, march madness.

“We we're all gearing up for March Madness and everybody was going about their daily lives," said William Hill CEO Joe Asher. "To see it all just grind to a halt so quick, you could’ve never dreamt it would happen so suddenly and so fast as it has."

Casinos throughout the state and sports books inside of them have been shut down due to COVID-19. With the stoppage of sporting events, there's not much to bet on, not much for bettors to lose, and not much for the state of Iowa to gain in the form of Tax revenue.

“We were doing about 59 million in handle the last few months." said Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission Administrator Brian Ohorilko. "March, I would suspect, would just be a fraction of that.”

Companies like William Hill that have a mobile app available for betting have seen that over 90% of their bettors place bets on that application. Because of that fact, they are researching and making lines and bets available for more obscure sporting events such as soccer being played in Belarus.

“I’m amazed by the number of people who are getting into Russian table-tennis and japanese sumo wrestling," Asher said. "Keep in mind, the amount of money that’s being bet on these sports is nothing compared to what you'd see on Iowa-Iowa State football game for instance.”

With far less money coming into the casino's much less is also going out. The Blackhawks County Gaming Association takes 5.75 adjusted gross income from the casinos and then distributes that money to different eligible municipalities and non-profits.

The State's Racing and Gaming Commission says that anywhere from 1.5 to 5 million dollars are generated in a year and then given to these local community associations.

“With the shut down at least for 6 weeks, that will have a significant impact on many of those charities.” Ohorilko said.

To date, Blackhawk County’s Association has approved 595 projects totaling more than $48 million dollars in funding, but because the Isle’s revenue is the sole source of the associations revenue, the current grant process has been placed on hold indefinitely.