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Political Mercury

Could sports-betting ever be legal in Iowa’s casinos?

12/3/2014

In a New York Times editorial two weeks ago, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver endorsed legalization of professional sports betting, saying it is time to bring such wagering out of the shadows and into regulated arenas.

“Outside of the United States, sports betting and other forms of gambling are popular, widely legal and subject to regulation,” Silver writes. “In England, for example, a sports bet can be placed on a smartphone, at a stadium kiosk or even using a television remote control. In light of these domestic and global trends, the laws on sports betting should be changed. Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards.”

He points out that an estimated $400 billion is waged illicitly on sports annually in the United States.

What’s more, more than half of states have casinos (Wild Rose Jefferson will be 19th state-regulated one in Iowa), and there are lotteries, and various forms of Internet gambling already are legal, Silver notes.

Iowa Gaming Association President and CEO Wes Ehrecke said in an interview that industry professionals are listening closely to Silver’s thoughts on legalized sports betting.

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“Certainly we are,” Ehrecke, a veteran of Iowa gaming, said. “It continues to remain at the forefront.”

Ehrecke said he is also watching New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill legalizing sports gaming at casinos and racetracks, a measure the courts have for now blocked because it violates federal law.

Like Silver, Ehrecke knows it will take an act of Congress to allow sports betting. If that door opens, and Iowa legislators and the governor walk through it, Ehrecke said, casinos would be the logical venues for accepting legal bets on ball games. Such gaming could occur through in-house operations or online or a combination — much like with horse racing.

“Sports books, as I envision them, are more in-person,” Ehrecke said.

The Iowa Gaming Association has not taken a formal position on sports betting, but members have had discussions about it, Ehrecke said.

Does he think gambling on basketball and football and baseball games will be legal in Iowa in 10 years?

“Yeah, I think that’s certainly plausible,” Ehrecke said.

Wild Rose officials are following developments with sports-betting as well, said Mike Couch, the new general manager at Jefferson’s Wild Rose, during a news conference last week at the Greene County Courthouse in which the company introduced him as its local leader.

“It’s interesting, but I think sports betting has a long ways to go,” Couch said. “We keep our eye on it just like any other diversification of gambling to make sure we have the product and offer what our customers want.”

Ehrecke said as it stands illegal local bookmakers are setting wagering lines for games in many places in Iowa.

Legalized gaming, out in the light of day, could be regulated by the casinos in Iowa with a long history of doing just that, he said.

“There is an obvious appetite among sports fans for a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events,” Silver said. “Mainstream media outlets regularly publish sports betting lines and point spreads.”

Should Iowa be in a position to legalize betting on professional games  (or for that matter, major college contests), the state will benefit most from rules tying such wagering to existing casino structures.

That could lead to the expansion of Iowa casinos with sports-book areas, and the accompanying walls of TVs and betting windows, and an additional income stream from any casino-based Internet gaming.

Economic-development advocates in regions of Iowa with casinos would be wise to get out in front of this issue by staying abreast of legal and legislative developments nationally — and letting our state legislators know they support a highly regulated role limiting potentially legal sports gaming to casinos, not an Old West strategy allowing all manner of newcomers to manage lines and take bets.

Adam Silver is not some fringe character. He’s a defining voice in American sports today.

Listening to his words is not a sure thing. But it’s a good bet. CV 

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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