Iowa governor declines to commit on sports betting signature

Published: Apr. 23, 2019 at 4:10 PM CDT
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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds declined Tuesday to tip her hand on whether she'll sign a sports betting bill that's passed its final legislative hurdle.

Reynolds, a Republican, has declined throughout the legislative session to suggest whether she supports the expansion of gambling in the state with 19 state-regulated casinos, horse and dog racing, and a lottery that had record sales last year.

Gambling in Iowa historically has had mixed opposition among Democrats and Republicans, and the conflicted views in her own party may be giving Reynolds pause.

The final House vote Monday evening had 38 Republicans supporting the bill and 16 voting against, while 29 Democrats supported it and 15 opposed.

Conservative Christian organizations, an important constituency for Reynolds, opposed the bill and Iowans generally are against it, according to a February Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll. The poll said 52 percent of residents oppose legalized betting on professional sports and 68 percent oppose college sports betting.

"That's what we'll take into consideration when I sit down with the policy team and go through the bill and we'll make the decision going forward," Reynolds said.

The margin of error in the Selzer & Co. poll of 803 Iowa adults was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Assuming the bill is signed, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission is pushing forward with developing rules that will determine how sports betting will work at the casinos, online and through a mobile application.

The legislation authorizes the commission to establish rules for betting on professional, collegiate and international sporting events, including motor racing. It excludes betting on some events, including minor leagues and in-state college team players.

The measure also legalizes fantasy sports contests and internet fantasy sports betting, but delays betting based on college sporting event statistics until May 2020.

The commission regulates the 19 state-licensed casinos in Iowa and its administrator, Brian Ohorilko, said most of the state's casinos are expected to set aside onsite space for betting. Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Des Moines has already remodeled an area for sports betting, converting a portion of its horse racing simulcast area into a sports book and bar.

The casinos also will contract with online and mobile application vendors to set up bets electronically, Ohorilko said. He expects the system to be ready for betting in August if Reynolds signs the bill and all goes as expected.

Sports betting would be limited to those 21 and older, and the bill sets a 6.75% tax on net receipts. Taxes and licensing fees could bring in estimated annual revenue of $2.3 million to $4 million annually.

Iowa lawmakers decided earlier this year to authorize the commission to oversee sports betting, rejecting offers from other groups including the Iowa Lottery, an Iowa horse racing group and professional sports leagues.

Casinos, which tend to attract an older demographic, are optimistic that drawing younger sports bettors could encourage spending in other areas of the operation.

"I think what is unknown is what are the indirect effects? What's going to be spent on the nongaming amenities and will any of the sports demographic be interested in some of the other more traditional casino games?" Ohorilko said.

Six states began sports gambling last year after the U.S. Supreme Court ended Nevada's monopoly.