In the wake of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the prospect of legalized sports betting is drawing a mixture of excitement and concern from local lawmakers and casino officials.
The high court this week struck down the federal 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. That law has effectively banned sports betting in the vast majority of states, including Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois.
With the ban lifted, decisions on the legalization of gambling now rest in the hands of individual states.
OPPORTUNITY FOR CASINOS?
At Dubuque’s two casinos, the potential legalization of sports gambling could open up new opportunities.
Q Casino and Hotel CEO Jesus Aviles could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in July, he said he would not hesitate to embrace sports betting if it became legal in Iowa.
“I think we would immediately apply for a license to include sports betting in our casino,” Aviles said at that time. “If we didn’t, I think we would be the only casino here that didn’t have it.”
On Tuesday, Dubuque Racing Association Board of Directors Chairman Rick Dickinson said the group is keeping close tabs on the evolution of sports gambling laws. The DRA serves as the nonprofit license-holder for Dubuque’s casinos.
“This is an expected outcome of the Supreme Court decision,” Dickinson said. “The DRA will explore how we might monetize this revenue option, but will do it with caution.”
Diamond Jo Casino General Manager Wendy Runde referred questions for this story to the casino’s parent company, Boyd Gaming.
In an email to the Telegraph Herald, Boyd Gaming President and CEO Keith Smith said the company views the expansion of sports betting “as a growth opportunity” for the company.
Boyd Gaming, based in Las Vegas, owns 24 casinos in seven states. Half are located in Nevada, where sports gambling already was legal prior to the recent ruling.
“As a result, Boyd Gaming is now in excellent position to become a leading player in the growth and expansion of sports betting across the country,” Smith said in the email.
However, company officials did not comment specifically on how these operations might unfold in Iowa.
“Whether we ultimately offer sports betting in specific states will depend on the rules and tax rates set forth by each state,” Smith wrote. “It is still too early to say which specific opportunities we will pursue, but we are monitoring the situation very closely and are prepared to act quickly as individual states move forward with legislation.”
IOWA CONTEMPLATES CHANGES
Iowa Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, applauded the ruling.
“I think it is a win for the states,” he said. “I think it is better to give the states a choice than have the federal government saying only Nevada can do it.”
Bowman said he is unsure how the issue will shake out moving forward.
On Monday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said sports betting regulation is something “we’ll address next legislative session.”
Earlier this year, Iowa lawmakers introduced a bill that would have legalized sports gambling contingent on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The bill, which did not gain the necessary approval, would have created a regulatory framework in which sports betting would be run through Iowa casinos.
Brian Ohorilko is the administrator for Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which oversees 19 casinos in the state. He said he expects the Legislature to take up the issue when it reconvenes in January.
Until then, sports gambling will remain illegal in the state, he said.
“In preparation for that bill, we have been actively monitoring and gathering information with respect to regulating the industry,” Ohorilko said. “If the commission were to be asked to regulate it, we would be prepared to do so.”
UP IN THE AIR
Illinois Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said he would not be surprised to see a sports gambling bill submitted yet this legislative session, which is slated to conclude at the end of this month.
Bivins said the possible influx of new revenue will entice some lawmakers to support sports gambling. However, the former sheriff said he is not sold.
“With my law enforcement background, I have seen the devastation that comes when people become addicted to gambling and wipe out the family savings and max out credit cards,” he said.
Wisconsin Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, said sports gambling will face an uphill battle in Wisconsin because the state constitution prohibits sports gambling.
Existing compacts with Native American tribes present “another significant hurdle” that sports gambling would have to clear in Wisconsin, according to Tranel.
While casinos and some states are eager to embrace sports gambling, others have expressed concern about its risks.
The Substance Abuse Services Center in Dubuque serves 10 Iowa counties, including Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Jackson and Jones counties.
Allison Schwab, a treatment supervisor at the center, said 407 people participated in a gambling treatment program in fiscal year 2017, which concluded June 30.
She said that total could increase if sports betting becomes legal.
“The expansion of legalized sports gambling will probably increase gambling participation,” she said. “It is our job to make sure steps are taken to minimize the harm if those numbers are increased.”