Lawmakers, casinos preparing for potential sports betting legalization

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa lawmakers may soon address a new form of revenue: legalizing sports gambling- and some in the business say preparations are already being made, and it may go into effect sooner rather than later.

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According to a study Oxford Economics, the American Gambling Association thinks legalizing sports betting could bring in tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. The study estimated legalizing sports gambling in the state could bring in upwards of $40 million for local and state taxes.

Before any bets can be placed, lawmakers have to determine how exactly how to layout what would be a brand-new program.

One of the first steps lawmakers have to address before any kind of implementation would be where exactly bets could be placed: potential involvement could come from local casinos, the Iowa Lottery, or other entities.

Some casinos are already making preparations for a potential legalization measure, such as Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel in Altoona, have already made measures to build potential new facilities to accommodate wagering on sporting events.

Jesus Avilés, President and CEO of Q Casino, said he wants to see casinos hold responsibility as the place to take bets on sporting events.

Things became realistic after a U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in May 2018- essentially making it legal for other states, outside of Nevada, to legalize a form of betting on sports.

Avilés said lawmakers and casinos in Iowa have an advantage, because Las Vegas has offered a decent blueprint to create their own plan.

"If we follow the taxing model and the 'modus operandi' of the casinos in Las Vegas, we're off to a good start," Avilés said.

Johnson County Republican State Representative Bobby Kaufmann is working on putting together a bill to open up sports betting in Iowa.

"All gaming issues, which legalizing sports betting would be among those, comes through my committee," Rep. Kaufmann said. "I've actually assigned the bill to myself. And a lot of Iowans are saying: 'hey, this is an underground black-market that's going on.'"

The new bill would turn that kind of betting on sporting events into a legitimate market. Though the legislation is in its beginning stages, some Democrats are already on board with the concept- even if the extremes of both parties are not.

"You've got some really strong conservative Republicans that don't want to see an expansion of gambling, you've got folks that have more liberal leanings that think that gambling preys on the poor," Kaufmann said.

Area Democrats like Johnson County Democrat State Senator Zach Wahls echoed the sentiment that this may not be a red or blue debate.

"It's going to be a fairly nonpartisan issue," said Sen. Wahls. "It's not going to be about Democrat or Republican- it's going to be about what concerns do you have as it pertains to your district."

Though the new Iowa legislative session just started, time is of the essence. Rep. Kaufmann said he is hoping to get the bill through before May.

"You've got so many groups that want to be involved in this, I think the subcommittee process can start as soon as two weeks from now," Rep. Kaufmann said.

Sen. Wahls said no matter how long it takes, they want to make sure the bill is written and established properly.

"We want to make sure that this is done responsibly, and that it's done in a way that is deliberate and thoughtful," Sen. Wahls said. "Because once the cat's out of the bag, it's kind of hard to put it back in."

But for people like Avilés, he encourages patience to ensure everyone has the opportunity to state their case, allowing Iowa legislators to make the best educated decision.

"The most important thing is to take time to consult the industry, to consult the other players that really want to get into the fold," Avilés said.