Jan 10, 2022 - Business

Iowa's sports gambling explodes in popularity

Illustration of a slot machine with a baseball on the end of the arm

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Iowans placed almost $1.25 billion in sports bets in the first six months of the current fiscal year, according to records published Friday by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC).

  • That surpasses the amount wagered in the entire previous fiscal year, averaging more than $6.8 million each day between July and December.

Why it matters: Much of the bets are placed online and critics like Tom Coates of Consumer Credit of Des Moines warn that the convenience is fueling addictions and social problems.

  • Efforts to expand Iowa's online gaming to casino games is underway.
  • Prairie Meadows is one of the only nonprofit casinos in the nation and its profits help pay county debt and assist dozens of nonprofits.

Catch up fast: Legalized sports betting is still relatively new in Iowa, officially launching in August 2019.

  • An initial requirement that people sign up for sports betting in-person at an Iowa casino ended last year and some casinos believe part of their profits are being sidelined by sportsbook operators.
  • The in-person rollback "was rocket fuel" for online sports wagering, Russ Mitchell, lead analyst for PlayIA.com, said in a statement.

Between the lines: Online sports betters are largely a different demographic than in-person players, according to a study that was commissioned by the IRGC and released last month.

What to watch: "It's definitely plausible" that a bill to expand online gaming will be introduced in the 2022 legislative session, Iowa Gaming Association president Wes Ehrecke told Axios Friday.

  • Some members of the association support the expansion but the group will remain neutral on the issue this year, Ehrecke said.
  • Polk supervisors chairperson Angela Connolly told Axios in October that she'd fight against an online gaming expansion, saying it could devastate county finances.
Iowa sports betting wagers
Data: Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission; Note: Fiscal years begin in June of the previous year; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

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