Iowa online casino legalization is not expected to get serious consideration in Des Moines in 2023.
Wes Ehrecke, executive director of the Iowa Gaming Association, tells PlayUSA that with 50-some new legislators bringing in new priorities, online casino legislation doesn’t stand a chance in Iowa this year.
“This just isn’t the year to try to pursue anything like that. There’s some very significant non-gaming issues that the governor and others have on their agenda and a lot of newly elected legislators. Nothing will happen on that front or any gaming issue, I would think.”
Ehrecke said that legislative leaders have expressed that this is not the year for online casino. Some of the priorities for the new-look Iowa legislature include tax cuts, gun rights and private school scholarships.
What happened with Iowa online casino legislation in 2022
Last year, Rep. Bobby Kaufmann introduced HSB 604.
Details of the industry-friendly bill included:
- Licenses only for existing pari-mutuel racetracks and excursion gambling boats or structures.
- A modest $45,000 initial licensing fee renewable annually for $10,000.
- Allowing each licensee to offer up to two individually branded mobile apps.
- Providing the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission flexibility to authorize a third skin.
He advanced the bill through a subcommittee of the House State Government Committee, which he chaired. But he had no intention for it to advance further.
“It’s a multiyear effort. I wanted to get it through subcommittee as a step forward from last year, but that’s the furthest I expect it to go. I just wanted to get the public engaged and get some media attention so we can continue to push the topic and debate forward.”
Kaufmann could reintroduce the Iowa online casino bill to keep the issue going, but it’s unlikely to progress.
Kaufmann has moved to chair the House Ways and Means Committee. That means he no longer chairs the committee where a gaming bill would start. But he remains on the State Government Committee.
Iowa casinos still not unanimous on support
It would help the efforts if Iowa casinos were unified in support of online casino. They are not.
Ehrecke said that 13 Iowa casinos support online casino legalization and six oppose. That’s the same as last year. As a result, the IGA does talk with lawmakers to make them aware of the issue but does not advocate for online casino play.
Last year, Kaufmann stated:
“We need to get all the casinos on board. Until that happens, the chances of it passing are zero.”
Some Iowa casinos in opposition have concerns about cannibalization plus losing entertainment and hospitality revenue if fewer patrons come to the casino.
Other Iowa gaming legislative issues
The Iowa Gaming Association did get a bill passed adding new sports bets, eWallets on casino floors and a moratorium for new casinos. Given that success and knowing the legislative focus is elsewhere, Ehrecke said the IGA doesn’t have any lobbying points on its agenda this year.
“We’ve certainly had a lot of success the last there years passing gaming-related bills,” Ehrecke said. “With a legislature that has a lot of new legislators and some other major priority issues, it just makes sense not to come forward with anything. We’ll have efforts to continue to heighten awareness of the benefits the gaming industry brings to the state and build relationships with these new elected officials.”
There is one gaming issue that could come up, on which the IGA is neutral.
In the past three and a half years, Iowa sports betting has generated nearly $25 million in tax revenue. But that revenue is just sitting unallocated in a fund.
Ehrecke thinks the legislature could discuss where to disburse the sports betting revenue. One possibility discussed is to allocate it to counties in which casinos are located to be used for the purpose of charitable grants. But lawmakers are sure to propose many avenues that meet their individual priorities.