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Lawmaker Not Confident About Iowa Online Casino Passage In 2024

Written By Matthew Kredell | Updated:
Iowa Online Casino Bill Chances 2024

Iowa online casino legislation barely received mention this year and one Iowa lawmaker sees prospects as dim for 2024.

Speaking this month at the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference in Denver, Rep. Jacob Bossman said concerns with cannibalization, addiction and minority access, as well as gaming expansion fatigue, are holding back Iowa online casino.

“I expect it will make progress,” Bossman said. “It would be nice if we could get it passed next year, but I’m a little bit pessimistic.”

What happened with Iowa online casino in 2023

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann first introduced Iowa online casino legislation in 2021. It didn’t go anywhere.

Kaufmann, who also sponsored the Iowa sports betting legislation passed in 2019, put the same online casino bill out there in 2022. But as he filed, he admitted the bill was going nowhere.

“We need to get all the casinos on board,” Kaufmann said. “Until that happens, the chances of it passing are zero.”

Iowa casinos still weren’t fully on board entering this year. Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association told PlayUSA that 13 of the 19 commercial casinos favored iGaming.

Given the lack of casino consensus around iGaming, Kaufmann didn’t even bother introducing a bill until March. At that time, he held a subcommittee hearing on the issue just to keep it fresh.

Why the hesitancy toward online casino in Iowa

Iowa online casino legislation has made little progress in three years since being introduced.

Bossman said he thinks one of the reasons is that lawmakers feel they just passed a gambling expansion with sports betting and aren’t ready to consider another one.

“There’s a lot of pushback from a portion of the members that are really hesitant to do what they perceive as an expansion of gambling. There’s still a lot of hesitation to do something else because there’s a perception that we just expanded in some people’s minds, and there’s some hesitancy to expand that again.”

Bossman said there were also some concerns among colleagues that authorizing online casino will lead to more gambling addiction. And that children could get a hold of a parent’s phone and place a bet.

Among Iowa casinos, Bossman said he believes some are fearful of cannibalization despite evidence to the contrary in other states with iGaming, such as New Jersey. There seems to be a divide where Las Vegas-based companies such as Caesars (four Iowa casinos) are all-in on iGaming. But then there’s a regional company in Elite Casino Resorts (three Iowa casinos) that has reservations.

“Cannibalization is one of the issues that comes up,” Bossman said. “In rural areas, most of the casinos in Iowa are set up as destination locations with golf courses, concert venues, hotels. And so there’s a lot of concern that they built up this infrastructure and if people can do the same thing online at home, that they’ve sort of wasted that investment.”

Industry expert said he thinks Iowa casinos will come around

Howard Glaser, global head of government affairs and legislative counsel for Light & Wonder, joined Bossman on an iGaming panel at NCLGS. Glaser addressed what he heard from Bossman about Iowa.

“In Iowa, you have national casino brands but you also have these consortiums of local brands who are concerned about being able to compete in the digital marketplace with the big guys. So while it’s true on the whole that there is no cannibalization and in fact there’s market growth, the next question becomes, OK, we’re going to grow the pie. Who’s going to get it? And so this is a little bit of a fight over who gets a piece of this growing pie.”

Glaser said he believes the local casino brands will eventually come around on iGaming.

“It’s a big enough pie for every constituency that we have and every stakeholder that we have in these casino states,” he said.

Bossman does expect Iowa online casino progress

Bossman is one of the leaders in the Iowa House in putting together the budget. He pointed out that Iowa isn’t looking for an influx in revenue at the moment, which could also play into the lack of urgency to authorize iGaming.

In fact, Iowans expect a budget surplus exceeding $2 billion.

Bossman said it’s worth watching if the increase in casino gaming in neighboring Nebraska causes a decline in Iowa casino revenues. If so, online casino could make up for the lost gaming revenue and then some.

Nebraska voters approved brick-and-mortar casinos at horse racetracks in 2020. Three of those casinos are now open with another planned for 2024.

Bossman’s modest goal for Iowa casino legislation in 2024 is to get its first successful committee vote.

“I expect it probably will be considered in Ways and Means and might come out,” Bossman said. “But with these types of bills, it takes multiple years before people become aware and comfortable.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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