asinos across the state of Iowa opened legal sports betting about three months after Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill clearing the way for the vertical, now becoming the 11th state to officially enter the market. Lakeside Hotel & Casino, an Affinity Gaming property, opened its new William Hill sportsbook on the casino's lower level; and Penn National’s Ameristar Casino Council Bluffs was another of six Iowa casinos that began accepting sports bets on-site the first day it was legal.
Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said two others are on the verge of final approval. He said nearly all the 19 state-regulated casinos are expected to follow suit, most in the next few weeks. Harrah’s and Horseshoe casinos, on the Council Bluffs waterfront, have scheduled the opening of their sportsbooks for 4 p.m. August 23. Heisman Trophy-winning Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch and WBO welterweight boxing champion Terence “Bud” Crawford are scheduled to appear.
In Osceola, the grand opening celebration kicked off with a $15,000 donation from Lakeside Hotel & Casino and William Hill presented to the American Legion of Iowa and a ribbon cutting. Joseph Reynolds, a WWII veteran residing in Clarke County, placed the ceremonial first bet officially opening the sportsbook.
"Lakeside is thrilled to offer a new and exciting amenity with the new sports book," said David Monroe, VP & General Manager for Lakeside Hotel & Casino. "We are committed to creating the best entertainment experience in Iowa."
The new sportsbook features 14 65-inch viewing monitors with 4K LCD displays and two 86-inch viewing monitors with 4K Ultra HD displays.
To continue the grand opening celebration, Lakeside Hotel & Casino will host public Meet & Greet events with sports legends, including Priest Holmes, retired running back for the Kansas City Chiefs; Andre Dawson, Hall of Fame outfielder for the Chicago Cubs; Dan Hampton, Hall of Fame defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears.
In the Omaha-area, former Iowa Hawkeye Tim Dwight, a 10-year NFL veteran, snipped a ceremonial red ribbon at the newly renovated Amerisports Bar & Grill, at Ameristar Casino Council Bluffs. Then he placed the first bet: $100 on the Chicago Bears to win the Super Bowl, at 20-1 odds.
Ameristar spent $750,000 on renovations, said General Manager Paul Czak, boosting the number of large-screen televisions in the sports bar from 35 to 55, installing kiosks and betting windows in a former seating area and walling off a music and dance floor as a VIP betting area. About 200 invited guests packed that area for a special buffet party during the grand opening. “This is much busier than we would have been on any other Thursday,” Czak said, as reported by the Omaha World-Herald. “I think it’s a great start.”
Nearby Harrah’s Council Bluffs and Horseshoe Council Bluffs — which are owned and operated by the same company — also have renovated parts of their facilities for sportsbooks, said Jill Beasley, vice president of marketing for the two casinos. At Harrah’s, the former Tag Lounge is being renamed “The Book,” and four betting windows have been added. At Horseshoe, sports betting will be added in the existing space for viewing video horse and dog racing. And the Horseshoe Whiskey Roadhouse is being renovated for a new sportsbook and bar.
Mobile betting using a cellphone app also is legal under the Iowa law, but bettors first will have to set up an account in person at the casino of their choice. Because the app will be geofenced within Iowa’s borders, out-of-state bettors will have to cross into Iowa to place a bet.
Beasley said Harrah’s and Horseshoe expect to have their mobile app running by mid-September. Czak said Ameristar’s app is still in development, and mobile betting likely won’t be available until the summer of 2020.
Iowa is the 11th state to allow sports betting following a Supreme Court decision in May 2018 overturning a law that limited legal sportsbooks to Nevada. It is the first Midwestern state to do so, though Indiana is set to start next month. Illinois has approved it but could be several months away from startup because rules are still being drafted.
Nebraska has rejected attempts to expand gambling beyond existing horseracing tracks and the state lottery. Gov. Pete Ricketts is a strong opponent of expanded gaming in the state. That means sports betting enthusiasts are likely to travel to Iowa casinos. Czak said he expects a significant number of Cornhusker fans to cross the Missouri River and place bets.
“(Nebraska was) 12-to-1 to win the Big 10 and 66-to-1 to win the national championship,” he said. “So I would guess there will be a lot of futures bets being placed tonight and this weekend.”