Iowa hasn’t yet had its turn in the spotlight as a candidate for online casino expansion, but it’s likely to be part of the conversation in 2024. Republican state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann introduced a bill in 2022 and again in 2023. But by his own admission, it was only to get the ball rolling, and had no chance to pass this year. While it will still be a longshot in 2024, it is now within the realm of possibility.
Perhaps the best argument in favor of Iowa’s chances is that it was very close to passing iGaming legislation once before. It may seem like ancient history now, but in 2012 there was a big national push for legal online poker. Ultimately, only New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada succeeded, but Iowa managed to get an online poker bill passed in the Senate as well.
Unfortunately, that bill ran out of time before it could garner the necessary votes in the House. Had things gone differently then, Iowa might have been well-positioned to add online casino games during the more recent wave of iGaming expansion. Instead, it now finds itself looking to make up for lost time.
Iowa Sets the Stage in 2022, 2023
After narrowly missing its chance for online poker, Iowa was one of the first states to embrace sports betting, legalizing online and retail sportsbooks in 2019.
Three years later, Rep. Kaufmann began the push for Iowa online casinos. Unfortunately, momentum in the legislature was very much against those hopes at that time. The mood was one of gambling expansion fatigue.
Iowa’s retail casinos make important contributions to the coffers of local levels of government. Anything that might reduce those casinos’ revenues and their contributions receives pushback, even if it would increase overall taxes for the state.
Rather than advancing Kaufmann’s proposal in 2022, his fellow lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on casino expansion. Although the language referred specifically to the issuance of new retail casino licenses, the intent was that lawmakers would also not consider new gambling legislation during that time.
So, when Kaufmann reintroduced his bill in 2023, it was dead on arrival. He knew it and only filed it after the deadline for bills to advance from committee had passed. The only goal, he said, was to hold a committee hearing to educate his peers in preparation for 2024.
What to Expect From Iowa in 2024
Iowa’s gambling expansion moratorium will expire on July 1, 2024. That’s after the usual endpoint of Iowa’s legislative sessions, but even if a bill were to pass, the regulatory process is slow enough that licenses wouldn’t be issued until the second half of the year in any case.
So, that’s one hurdle out of the way. Having said he was trying to keep the ball in play in 2023, Rep. Kaufmann presumably intends to resume his effort in earnest.
The good news is that Iowa Republicans seem generally more amenable to gambling than Republicans are in other states. Many of Kaufmann’s fellow party members voted in favor of the 2012 online poker and 2019 sports betting efforts.
As we see in other states, however, resistance will come from the retail casino industry. The Iowa Gaming Association (IGA) says that about two-thirds of its members support online casinos. However, it won’t get behind the effort as an organization unless all are on board.
That’s unlikely to happen. A few of the six holdouts could probably be swayed, but Churchill Downs Inc. won’t budge. It tried and failed to turn a profit in the online casino and sports betting space as Twinspires (formerly BetAmerica). Since throwing in the towel, it has turned its heel on the concept of online gambling and become an important lobbying force against further expansion.
So, the big question for 2024 will be whether Kaufmann can get the House onboard without the official support of the IGA. Or, theoretically, whether the other IGA members endorse the plan over Churchill Downs’ objections.
Key Figures for the 2024 Iowa Online Casino Push
Rep. Bobby Kaufmann: So far, Kaufmann appears to represent the entirety of the Iowa online casino effort. So we can expect things to start with him in 2024. One important question is whether someone will emerge in the Senate to champion a similar effort there. The floor manager for the 2012 online poker bill, Jeff Danielson, is no longer in office. Moreover, that effort originated with Democrats, and Kaufmann will surely be looking for help from his own party.
Wes Ehrecke: The most important challenge for the bill will be securing the support of the IGA or figuring out how to proceed without it. As President and CEO of the IGA, Ehrecke will be central to the conversation.
Rep. Matt Windschitl: The House Majority Leader voted yes on the 2019 sports betting bill, sponsored a 2017 DFS bill, and has never opposed any significant gambling legislation. Past experience with online gambling legislation could make him a key ally.
Rep. Jennifer Konfrst: The House Minority Leader opposed the 2019 sports betting bill, making it likely that she and House Democrats will stand against Kaufmann’s efforts. Without bipartisanship, he’ll need overwhelming support from fellow Republicans.
Rep. Pat Grassley: The House Speaker voted in favor of sports betting in 2019 but has opposed retail casino expansion in the past. When asked by PBS reporters about the online casino possibility, he said that he doesn’t expect that conversation to move forward without “consensus” from the industry.
Sen. Jack Whitver & Sen. Pam Jochum: If Kaufmann’s efforts make it out of the House, the bill’s prospects in the Senate seem good. Whitver, the Republican Majority Leader, and Jochum, the Democrat Minority Leader, both voted in favor of online poker in 2012 and sports betting in 2019.
More States to Watch in 2024
Bonus News Managing Editor Alex Weldon created several forecasts for States to Watch in 2024.
Check out the other installments:
- States to Watch in 2024: New York — Will a $1 Billion Promise Sway the Naysayers?
- States to Watch in 2024: New Hampshire — Another iGaming Monopoly in the Making? *
- States to Watch in 2024: Maryland — Is an Online Casino Referendum on the Horizon?
- States to Watch in 2024: Illinois — Will the Internet Gaming Act Progress or Continue to Gather Dust?
- States to Watch in 2024: Rhode Island — How Much Will Bally’s Monopoly Be Worth?