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Lunch With...

Keith Miller at Maxie’s

6/5/2019

Keith Miller is a distinguished professor of law at Drake. He teaches torts, products liability, gaming law, and workers compensation. With big changes in gaming law coming to Iowa in late August and bigger changes probably by winter, we asked him to lunch to talk about gaming and other things.

He chose Maxie’s, an old-fashioned steak house that has maintained a consistent menu featuring onion rings, cocktails of the 1940-60s, Reubens, de Burgo, patty melts and rarebits. The bar is decorated with drawings of Hollywood stars from the 1940-60s. Why does Miller like the place?

“I had a neighbor named Wally Spitt. He was the ultimate gentleman. He really liked two places in town — Cosi Cucina and Maxie’s. I miss him and the refinement of old places like this,” he said.

Besides his gaming classes at Drake, Miller also teaches gaming law at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) and has spoken about gaming law multiple times at conferences for the American Bar Association. He has published two books and numerous articles on the subject.

How did Drake happen to create a department of gaming law and become so well known on the subject?

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“What we have at Drake is the farthest thing in the world from a department. I’m the gaming department. Back in 2005, I was thinking about activities that seemed to be reshaping or redefining Iowa’s culture. There is no question that gambling has done that. Iowa has gambling on as many levels as any state — lottery, bingo, greyhounds, horse racing, 19 commercial casinos, several tribal casinos and now sports gaming. When I first proposed my course on the law of regulated gambling, the idea was met with my colleagues rolling their eyes. I had to remind people that teaching or studying gaming law doesn’t necessarily mean you support more widespread gaming. It simply recognizes that it’s not going away, so let’s figure out how to regulate it properly,” Miller recalled.

How did he happen to start teaching at UNLV?

“It’s interesting, but until very recently UNLV Law School has not had full-time faculty teaching gaming law. Even there it was sometimes difficult to persuade people it is a legitimate course for legal study. I have been teaching there for five years, one-week classes when Drake is on break. The audience in Las Vegas is very different from at Drake. My classes at UNLV range from 10-40 law students, and it’s a diverse group. There are young students, older students, people going through law school while still working in the gaming industry, recovering gambling addicts, treatment center employees, legislators, and even people from the entertainment community. Many of them will have legal careers in the gaming field. Here it’s not so much a part of a law student’s career path,” he explained.

One popular rumor about legalized gaming betting is that it will drive the illegal bookies out of business. Is this something Miller believes?

“Not at all. Illegal sports betting is just too convenient for some people. Legal betting does not advance credit; the neighborhood bookie does. Bookies thrive even in Las Vegas, where legal betting is everywhere. Offshore sportsbooks won’t go out of business either,” Miller explained.

“There’s more to this. Legal gaming has a dilemma. Legislators want gambling to raise tax revenue. But sportsbooks already operate with thin profit margins — 5-7 percent of all the money bet. If you tax sportsbooks too high, or impose high regulatory fees on them, the only way they can make money is by offering unattractive betting odds. This will drive bettors right back to illegal sportsbooks. So it’s not easy striking a balance that gives you proper regulation while still making the business profitable,” he added.

How popular will legal gaming be at Prairie Meadows?

“When it first looked likely that Iowa would legalize sports gambling, I asked my class of 15 students how often would they go to Prairie Meadows to bet on sports. No one said more than once. But my students are young people who want to gamble on their phones. Anything that brings people into the casino benefits all the action. Sports gamblers will play the slots and table games just like horse racing fans do. It will be an amenity,” Miller said.

Why has English gaming giant William Hill been so successful at taking over casino sports books?

“Legal gambling is so much more widespread in England and Asia than in the U.S. English soccer fans have been able to bet on propositions like the first person to score or what minute the first score occurs for a long time. They also have vast experience at accepting mobile bets. That’s the future of gaming. In New Jersey, since the Supreme Court allowed sports betting, over 70 percent of all legal wagering is now done on smart phones or online,” Miller said.

“Setting up regulations for mobile betting is difficult. There has to be geofencing technology so that you can’t bet on your phone unless you are in Iowa. If you are a Nebraska resident betting on a mobile app in Iowa, you have to bet before you cross the bridge into Omaha. That’s why mobile betting won’t be available in Iowa before winter. There are lots of issues with it,” he explained.

What other changes are coming to gaming?

“There will be far more scrutiny of plays and players. One Iowa State game this year ended with a last-second basket that had no effect on the result but did change the gambling line outcome. The referees reviewed the decision like they would have if it changed who won and lost the game,” he recalled.

Does Miller think Iowa will handle the new action well?

“Yes, I have complete faith in the Racing and Gaming Commission here. They are pros, every bit as good as regulators in Illinois, for example. But that’s a tradition here. Our governors don’t go to prison for corruption either,” he said. ♦

Jim Duncan has been covering the central Iowa food scene for more than two decades.

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