Lawmakers in the Hawkeye State needed just six days to approve an Iowa sports betting bill and send the legislation to the Governor’s desk. So it’s no surprise to see online gambling heat up only weeks later.
Senate File 617 was approved by the Iowa House of Representatives on April 22, six days after the state Senate sent it up the legislative ladder. The Iowa sports betting bill – which would allow the state’s 19 licensed commercial casinos to operate sportsbooks both onsite and online – now sits on the desk of Governor Kim Reynolds.
Lawmakers and the Governor generally agree on the need to regulate brick and mortar sports betting across the state. Wagering via online / mobile apps, on the other hand, has become a sticking point.
Reynolds has until May 27 before the 30-day window elapses to either sign, veto, or allow SF-617 to become law without her signature.
Appearing in Cedar Rapids on May 6 to sign legislation on teacher misconduct reporting mandates, Reynolds told the Marietta Daily Journal that she was still weighing the merits of SF-617.
Asked about the need for sports betting regulation, Reynolds pointed to the fact that “It’s happening right now with no oversight,” before delving into the threat of gambling addiction.
Reynolds – who has spoken publicly about her own struggles with alcoholism before embracing sobriety 17 years ago – told the media that, while online sportsbook operators are bound to screen for compulsive play, she’s still concerned nonetheless:
“So that’s a component I’m looking at. I continue to hear from people on both sides of the issue.”
When the sports betting package was approved by the General Assembly, the Governor’s office issued a lukewarm statement on her intent to sign:
“We’re going to do the same process that we do with any legislation that passes. My policy team and I will sit down, and we’ll review the bill at hand and then we’ll make a decision.”
Brian Carter – a lobbyist working on behalf of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church – told the Sioux City Journal his organization has requested that Reynolds remove online wagering from the Iowa sports betting bill:
“Sports betting isn’t going to be a big deal but if it goes online, that’s a big deal. I believe it’s a step too far.”
Carter is hardly alone, as a Des Moines Register / Mediacom Iowa poll conducted in February found that 52 percent of respondents oppose any form of sports wagering in the state.
The debate has also played out on the floor of the Legislature.
During a hearing ahead of SF-617’s passage in the Senate, state senator Joe Bolkcom (D-43) picked up his smartphone and waved it around to colleagues, calling the device a miniature casino in the making:
“We’re getting ready to queue up the next generation of gamblers in Iowa. It will start with sports and lead to online slot machines that look a lot like your phone and who knows what else. Where will online gambling lead us?”
Tom Coates serves as executive director of Consumer Credit of Des Moines (CCDM), a credit counseling service that counts problem gamblers as 10 percent of its clientele. Coates told the Sioux City Journal that he believes online integration is giving the Governor pause:
“This is the coming thing. We’ve known for a number of years that this was the coming thing. The majority of Iowans still are resistant to this online gambling bill, and perhaps that’s the reason why Kim is reluctant just to hurry and sign it.”
In her own comments on the Senate floor, state senator Liz Mathis (D-34) attempted to ground the discussion in a rational appraisal of Iowa’s currently unregulated sports betting industry:
“The way that I looked at sports betting was that it’s being done already, everywhere. If you’re going to be making it legal, then why wouldn’t the state try to benefit from that and put it to good?”