Iowa Guide To Legal Gambling

A Look At The Land-Based And Social Casinos In Iowa

iow flag renderingIowa is one of the more unassuming states in the United States. Its best-known tourist attraction is a baseball field – and a baseball field from a 1989 movie, no less. Still, one of the characters from that movie mistook Iowa for heaven, so it can’t be too bad.

The last thing a visitor might expect to find is a bustling gambling industry that yields roughly $1.3 billion in gambling revenue annually. But that is exactly the situation in Iowa.

Online gambling

Iowa’s online gambling stance is similar to that of many states: the law just doesn’t say.

Online gambling is still new enough that many states are struggling to codify their stances on the subject. Land-based gambling in Iowa exists, although it is tightly controlled. The state has a lottery for residents, but when it comes to the online sphere, the only affirmative step the state has taken is to enforce the gambling age limits that apply to other forms of gambling.

That said, there’s no word for or against it. As such, it remains a dodgy enterprise for Iowans. Exercise caution when visiting sites that accept Iowa residents; their legality and acceptability cannot be confirmed.

Social casino options

Iowa has many land-based casino options, but only four offer their own social casino sites. The two Caesars properties, Harrah’s Council Bluffs and Horseshoe Council Bluffs, offer several links to both branded and partnered websites, most notably Slotomania. Caesars also promotes its real-money sites to Iowans, even though they would have to travel to New Jersey or Nevada to play.

The other two properties to offer a social casino option are the two Isle of Capri casinos in Bettendorf and Waterloo. Both offer a link to Lady Luck Casino, which is a smaller, independently-owned site based out of Nevada and serves various properties around the country.

Other than that, the typical social casino options are available on Facebook or mobile devices. Double Down, Big Fish, and Zynga all offer their services to Iowa residents and visitors.

It would be remiss not to mention MyVegas as well, which is the MGM Resorts site. MyVegas is notable because of its system for awarding real, redeemable comps to players. Although Iowans would have to travel to redeem these comps, real rewards can still be obtained without spending a dime (although one will have to spend quite a bit of time).

State casino operator history

Iowa’s foray into legal gambling began with criminal prosecution of a Catholic priest.

Back in 1971, the tiny Iowa town of North Buena Vista held its annual picnic on behalf of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. This event, a 40-year tradition, typically saw the use of a wheel of fortune, bingo, a dice table, and some other small card games. The church also served beer for attendees, whose numbers swelled the town’s population from a meager 150 residents to more than 8,000 people each year.

However, the state attorney general decided to crack down, and at the end of the day, all the gambling equipment was confiscated by state agents, and Father Carl Ruhland was charged with running a gambling house. Two weeks later, he entered a guilty plea and paid the $100 fine. What happened after that was astounding.

Iowans were enraged by the idea of a church picnic being raided and the town priest standing trial. Public outcry was so intense that the Iowa Legislature passed a resolution to repeal the state’s ban on gambling in 1972, a mere year later. Unsurprisingly, the resolution was affirmed in the general election vote that year, and thus began Iowa’s journey to its respectable gambling array.

According to the most recent revenue report by the state, Iowa offers 19 casinos or racinos to its residents. The largest of those, both in terms of square footage and overall revenue, is Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona. Prairie Meadows offers patrons horse racing, 1,900 slot machines, a poker room, and 13 different varieties of table games, all spread over nearly 90,000 square feet of casino space.

Obviously, if the largest casino in the state tops out at 90,000 square feet, then residents won’t be getting the superlatives of the megaresorts in Las Vegas, Oklahoma, New Jersey, or Connecticut. However, Prairie Meadows alone is reporting year-to-date revenues nearing $180 million, and two other properties, Ameristar II and Horseshoe Bluffs Run, are also north of $150 million for the year. For a state with just over three million residents, Iowans sure like to gamble – just in a laid-back, humble manner.

And to think, it all began with a Catholic priest getting in trouble with the law. Below are the five largest casinos in the state (by revenue) and their particulars.

Land-based casinos

Property Location Casino Size (Sq. Ft.) Games Offered
Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel Altoona 88,979 S, P, HR, BJ, C, R, PGP, 3C, MBac, UTH, DJ Wild Poker
Horseshoe Council Bluffs Council Bluffs 58,704 S, P, BJ, C, R, PGP, 3C, MBac, MS, UTH
Riverside Casino and Golf Course Riverside 51,250 S, BJ, P, PGP, 3C, C, R, MS, Electronic Craps, Electronic Roulette
Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo Waterloo 41,178 S, B, WPT – Heads Up Hold’em, C, R, Match ‘Em Hi-Lo
Ameristar Hotel Casino Council Bluffs Council Bluffs 38,668 S, BJ, C, R, PGP, “the latest specialty games”

*Slots (S), Craps (C), Blackjack (BJ), Roulette (R), Baccarat (B), Poker (P), Mini-Baccarat (MBac), Pai Gow Poker (PGP), Pai Gow Tiles (PGT), Let It Ride (LR), Caribbean Stud Poker (CS), Crazy 4 Poker (C4), 3 Card Poker (3C), 4 Card Poker (4C), Ultimate Texas Hold’em (UTH), High Card Flush (HCF), Mississippi Stud (MS), Texas Hold’em Bonus (THB), Big Six Wheel (B6), Bingo (BI), Keno (K), Off-track Betting (OTB), Casino War (CW), Money Wheel (MW), Spanish 21 (S21), Sic Bo (SB), Wheel of Fortune (WF), Horseracing (HR), Dogracing (DR)

State legal environment

  Permitted/Offered? Notes & Restrictions
Land-based Gambling Yes
Online Gambling No Legalization likely within five years
Lottery Yes In-state and multistate drawings
Charitable or House-based Gambling Yes Bingo and raffles
Minimum Gambling Age 21 for all types of gambling