Within the span of six days, both chambers of the Iowa General Assembly have voted in favor of an Iowa Sports Betting Bill.
The state Senate started things off last Wednesday with a 31-18 vote to approve Senate File 617, a land-based and online / mobile sports betting bill introduced by state representative Bobby Kaufman (R-73) and state senator Roby Smith (R-47).
And on Monday, members of the state House of Representatives provided their own 67-31 vote to finish the Legislature’s work on legal sports betting. SF-617 now heads to the desk of Governor Kim Reynolds, who can either sign the bill into law or exercise her executive veto powers to kill it off until next year.
Representing the Republican Party, which holds majorities in both the Senate and House, Reynolds would seem to be aligned with her fellow GOP members Kaufman and Smith. Nonetheless, the Governor has declined to comment on her intentions to either sign or veto SF-617.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sportsbooks outside of Nevada in January, seven states – Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island – have launched legal sports wagering.
And earlier this month, the Governor of Virginia signed a bill into law paving the way for legal sports betting in the Commonwealth. However, only if certain regulatory benchmarks are met beforehand.
In Iowa, the spirit of compromise has been in the air from the very beginning. After the House targeted a $75,000 fee for sports betting operator licenses, and the Senate responded with a $15,000 licensing fee, the two chambers met in the middle at $45,000. The renewal fee for sportsbook licenses was similarly halved at $10,000 after the House and Senate respectively requested $15,000 and $5,000 price points.
Asked about the bipartisanship on display during the sports betting debate, Smith told Legal Sports Report that all 150 of Iowa’s state lawmakers have their hands on his bill:
“Yes, it’s a Senate file, but all four caucuses worked on this. We got it to the point where all caucuses were on board with it. I think there will be bipartisan support in the House just as there was in the Senate.”
That prediction proved to be accurate, as the House Republicans voted 38-16 in favor, while House Democrats supported SF-617 by a 29-15 margin.
If approved by the Governor, the new Iowa Sports Betting Bill would charge the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) with overseeing the licensing process.
The IRGC regulates the 19 state-licensed casinos throughout Iowa, and these venues would be eligible to apply to build and operate both brick and mortar and online / mobile sportsbooks.
Operators would pay taxes at a rate of 6.75 percent on gross gaming revenue, plus 0.75 percent more to be diverted to local charities and other causes.
Despite attracting “Yes” votes from both sides of the aisle, the Iowa Sports Betting Bill didn’t exactly achieve overwhelming support within the General Assembly or average Iowans alike.
In a public poll conducted by the Des Moines Register, 52 percent of Iowans counted themselves as “opposed” to legal sports betting. Just 40 percent of respondents were in favor, while 9 percent remain unsure.
In comments made to local media outlets, state senator Jack Whitver (R-19) discussed the consumer protection interests behind the legalization effort:
“It’s happening illegally and we wanted to bring that illegal gambling out of the darkness so we can regulate it and keep a better eye on it.”
State representative Scott Ourth (D-26) remains unconvinced, however, telling WHO-TV.com that legal sports betting would be akin to lawful sinfulness:
“It troubles me greatly that we are going to create new addicts, bankruptcies and condone the breaking up of families. We are going to give blessings tonight to the destruction of young lives tonight in Iowa.”
Responding to Ourth’s comments, state representative Ashley Hinson (R-67) pointed to a $300,000 tax carveout diverted to state and local gambling addiction programs:
“We actually have a separate bill in appropriations committee that we are going to double the money going to those funds, so in terms of getting people the help they need, we are going to provide additional resources to make sure that happens.”