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Political Mercury

Fantasy sports could be part of Iowa casinos betting mix

4/15/2015

A fantasy sports gaming bill that has passed the Iowa Senate could open opportunities for casinos to arrange for daily contests with cash payouts — on football, basketball, baseball and other athletic competitions — at their venues if the measure becomes law.

The leading advocate of the bill — Senate File 166 — thinks the support is there in the Iowa House for passage of a companion package this spring.

“Yes, I do,” said state Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls. “I’ve put a lot of work into it. The votes are there.”

The measure cleared the Senate 32-16 in March.

The essential component of the legislation to legalize fantasy sports wagering is to remove a provision in Iowa law prohibiting the exchange of money for participants in leagues or contests. Danielson said fantasy sports competitions are games of skill, not chance, and therefore should not be regulated as gambling.

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“I’ve put a lot of work into it. The votes are there.” - State Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls

“I’ve put a lot of work into it. The votes are there.”
– State Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls

Currently, high-profile Internet sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, which operate one-day leagues in which competitors pick players, “manage” them and win based on a variety of statistics in actual sports games, are not allowed to operate in Iowa. It’s legal in 44 other states, though, Danielson, chairman of the Senate State Government Committee, said in an interview.

“It has become socially acceptable,” Danielson said. “In some examples, the people get ahead of us.”

There are restrictions on fantasy sports in his bill. The contests can’t be traditional bets on games. The outcome can’t be tied to single games, or a collection of games or point spreads or just the performance of one athlete.

The bill bans any involvement of high school sports in the fantasy competitions.

A long list of casino industry advocates registered to lobby on the legislation, although they are listed as “undecided.” Online fantasy sports organizations, which are represented by some heavy-hitting Iowa lobbyists, are supporting it, and the Methodist Church, historically outspoken in opposition to gambling, has a list of opponents, according to legislative documents.

Since any business or person in Iowa could run a fantasy contest under the plan, the casino potential would come from having a built-in clientele inclined to join such competitions, patrons, who for example, may stick around and play slot machines as they await outcomes of football games.

“For the casinos right now, it’s more of a co-location issue,” Danielson said.

Casinos could ink operating agreements with the major online providers of fantasy sports or establish their own games.

Brian J. Ohorilko, administrator of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said that regulatory body is not taking a position on the matter. He said casinos could offer one-day fantasy sports as long as the contests complied with that state’s social and charitable gaming laws.

“It would be something they could offer if they wanted,” he said.

Wild Rose President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Timmons said his organization is monitoring the fantasy sports legislation.

“We don’t know what our involvement will be,” Timmons said.

But he said casinos are highly regulated environments in which Iowans feel comfortable competing with their money. CV

 

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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