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Iowa Sports Betting Bill Awaiting Governor’s Signature

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The Iowa Legislature believes if the state builds sportsbooks, the bettors will come.

The state House voted 67-31 to finalize legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Kaufmann and Sen. Roby Smith, that allows legalized sports betting and wagering on fantasy sports sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel.

It now moves to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds desk for her signature, though she hasn’t indicated she’ll sign it.

Both state chambers worked out differences in the legislation, meeting in the middle on many issues.  Agreement was met on the price of licensing fees at $45,000 with a $10,000 annual renewal.

Sen. Smith said that a late amendment to the legislation will delay play of fantasy sports on college players until May 2020.

Sen. Smith told a gambling industry website that the delay gives collegiate athletic departments time to educate athletes.

Almost a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ban on sports wagering opening the door for states to implement sportsbooks. Beyond Nevada, which has had gambling for decades, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia have working sportsbooks.

Native American tribes in New Mexico are offering sports wagering through an existing compact. Arkansas has approved sports betting but has yet to implement it.

"This just brings people out of the shadows and gives them a regulated environment," Sen. Smith, R-Davenport, told the Des Moines Register. "It gives people the freedom to choose to do sports wagering, legally."

An initial sticking point for the legislation was who would take control of the state’s gambling system. At one point there were four different betting bills in the Legislature that gave power to the Iowa Lottery, pro sports leagues, and the horse racing industry.

After much discussion, the responsibility landed with the casinos and the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission which also oversees existing gambling industries.

If/when the legislation gets the governor’s signature, the panel will begin to write rules for casinos to implement and enforce sports betting.

Gary Palmer, president and CEO of Prairie Meadow Racetrack and Casino said the IRGC worked with legislators and were able to agree on a tax rate and rules that make sense for Iowans.

Residents could bet on sports at any of the state’s 19 casinos and on websites, if they visit a casino first to provide proof they are 21-years-old.

Betting could be start as soon as summer with July 4 being the tentative start date. This would give casinos time to adjust to a new normal before college and NFL football sgarts.

The legislation’s co-sponsor Rep. Kaufmann says Iowans already are betting on sports, the bill makes it legitimate.

“This is an industry that is here,” Kaufmann told the Register. “This bill regulates it, taxes it and polices, it.

As with any legislation there are detractors and the sports betting bill has garnered criticism from business lobbyists, some faith-based organizations and several lawmakers.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom D-Iowa City has expressed concern the legislation could hurt the brick-and-mortar casinos. He’s also worried companies and the state may take advantage of people with gambling addictions.

"The powerful gambling industry has captured Iowa," Bolkcom said in Senate remarks. "It's a predatory industry just like big tobacco and big vape.”

As part of the bill, legislators have proposed funding to help the Iowa Department of Public Health increase gambling addiction programs.