Iowa Gaming Association president and CEO Wes Ehrecke said he doesn’t expect a debate on online casinos for 2022. While he says state lawmakers might eventually discuss legalizing online gambling, the representative of the trade body doesn’t think this will happen soon. This development came as the regulators reported Iowans bet a daily average of $9.6 million, which led sportsbook operators in the state to post a new monthly record in November.
“We don’t envision any legislation coming forward, but if it is, we’re going to be neutral,” Ehrecke said. “We have some of our members that support looking at it; there are others that are opposed. They have questions and thoughts and so this is going to need to evolve over the next year or two before any serious legislation or consideration would happen.”
Ehrecke, a representative of the 19 state-licensed casinos in the state, made the remarks during an appearance over the weekend on “Iowa Press,” on Iowa PBS. He further claimed legalization of online casinos wouldn’t lead to the demise of land-based venues in the state.
“It’s not just gaming,” Ehrecke said, according to Radio Iowa. “It’s the dining, the hotels, the comedy clubs — the variety of things that are within a casino, plus the concerts and conventions and the like. We’ve really created premier destinations in 19 places.”
So far, six other states have already authorized online casinos, including Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. But for Ehrecke, this idea is still in its embryonic stage in Iowa.
When considering whether to allow online casinos in the state, the Iowa Gaming Association CEO says analyzing the record of those states which have already launched operations will be key to answering questions such as how online gaming revenue compares to in-person gambling, and if foot traffic declines in casinos.
“Is it going to be something that’s worthwhile like when we’re having our blizzards in the wintertime and things like that, so there’s just a variety of things — and how to structure it properly,” Ehrecke said. “You know, where’s the appetite for Iowans and legislators to want to have this as an option?”
While online casinos might take their time to launch in the state, Iowans are allowed to place online sports wagers since August 2019, a vertical that has proven to be highly profitable. Handle for November topped $287 million, while revenue approached $20 million, according to state records. Wagering handle for the current fiscal, which began July 1, has amounted to about $975 million, while also putting Iowa within reach of the $2 billion mark for calendar year.
Betting in November topped the previous record of $280.9 million, set in October, while also being up nearly 230% versus the same month last year, in which handle posted a low $87.2 million.
“It’s a very competitive industry right now,” said Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the state Racing and Gaming Commission, according to KPVI. “There really has been significant interest in this state and the industry continues to grow. Last year we had approximately $6 million in tax revenue to this state. We anticipate that it will grow.”
The state has now posted three straight record months of sports betting, aided by the removal of in-person registration requirements for online sportsbooks at the beginning of the year, and the expected popularity of football.
Data shows Caesars and DraftKings were the leading online sportsbooks, while Diamond Jo Worth and Ameristar Council Bluffs led retail operations in terms of revenue. The NFL and college football were the most popular wagering options during the last three months.
“Football is driving record growth this fall, not just in Iowa but all over the country,” said Russ Mitchell, lead analyst for PlayIA.com. “But with four Division I basketball programs, Iowa’s sportsbooks have an opportunity to grow some more this winter, especially if Iowa and Iowa State continue to play well.”
Likewise, adjusted gross revenue reported by Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos is also potentially on a record pace, with more than $730.3 million for the first five months of the current fiscal year, following a strong November of $136.5 million.
The record to top is Iowa’s record-high revenue posted in fiscal year 2012, at $1.47 billion. Should the current trend continue, venues will shatter the record by millions.