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Iowa Is The Latest To Report Ugly March Figures


Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

Coronavirus fallout for the US legal betting industry continues with another state releasing some discouragingly predictable numbers. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission has released its March figures and they show that the widespread shutdown of society has had a crippling effect on its sports betting industry. Don’t expect any impending change – 19 state casinos were shuttered in Iowa March 17 with no indication of when they will re-open and the sporting world still has no timetable for a return to regular action.

“It’s unprecedented times,” said Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association. “We’re just shut down until it makes sense to reopen a premier entertainment destination. It was very significant for our industry.”

"March"ed toward a lost month

It is no shock to see that Iowa's sports betting industry took a hit in March, considering there were virtually no sports or no casinos open for nearly half of the month. Altogether, Iowa's March handle was a disappointing $19,567,985 which is down from $56.9 million in February. That's a 65.6% decline. Retail sports betting was down 67.3% and mobile wagers fell 64.8%.

Out of all the bad news comes a glimmer of good news for Iowa's legal betting scene. Despite a dramatic decrease in Iowa's overall betting handle, revenues actually increased from February to March. Shockingly, sports betting revenues climbed 55% in March, from $755,334 in February to $1,171,164 last month. Online betting, which will likely be responsible for any bounceback for the industry remained a big factor during the lost month of March, accounting for 68% or $13,316,068 of the overall handle.

Where Iowa's sports betting platform was

Iowa was one of the states to keep an eye on with regards to their sports betting industry. Despite a relatively small population and no pro sports teams, the citizens of Iowa’s gambling industry finished 2019 with $1.457 billion in adjusted gross revenue. 2020 was projected to see that number grow.

February, which is traditionally a down-month for the US sports betting industry thanks to the lack of NFL football saw $60 million in bets flow in, which is seen as a decent number. Adjusted gross revenue at state-regulated casinos for the first nine months of fiscal 2020 stood at about $1.05 billion and almost $346.8 million was wagered on sports in Iowa since August 15. Over that time, the state was able to collect $1.7 million in tax revenue for state and local coffers.

Where Iowa's sports betting platform was projected to go

All-in-all, Iowa was slated to enjoy some positive growth in its sports betting industry in 2020 with an anticipated 2% overall growth that would land the state in the area of about $1.457 billion in adjusted gross revenue. March, with the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, was supposed to be a banner month that could have set the tone for a lucrative 2020.

“Under normal circumstances, Iowa would have seen a massive spike in sports betting activity and tax revenue from March Madness. You probably would have seen double the numbers of February, but instead, activity was literally cut in half, following the shutdown of all major sports,” Max Bichsel, vice president of U.S. business for Group, said.

What's left to bet on?

“There still is no definitive outlook on when major sporting events and leagues will return, but that doesn’t mean the opportunities to bet will go completely dry,” Bichsel said. “Iowa sportsbooks will likely take bets on the NFL and WNBA drafts, iRacing with NASCAR, Chinese professional baseball and even handball in Belarus.”

Sportsbooks will be utterly dependent on the NFL Draft this year and have been dreaming up new ways for bettors to get their money in. New prop bets are popping up every day with a focus on not only the sports side of things but also the everyday pop-culture aspects that come along with such an event.

Part of a pattern

Sportsbooks around the US have been reporting declining handles and revenues to nobody's surprise. More monetary carnage for the sports betting industry is expected to keep coming. Indiana, for instance, reported a 60% decline in March from its $187.2 million in handle in February.

Simply put, there are no states' sports betting industries that are thriving. Disappointing March numbers will keep trickling in and the fear of what April's figures will look like should continue to plague the industry as a whole until the world can dig itself out from COVID-19.