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DES MOINES — Legal sports wagering in Iowa topped the $100 million plateau in December, marking the third month in a row for record-setting growth.
And industry officials expect betting activity will continue to grow, given the upcoming Super Bowl and NCAA “March Madness” basketball tournament and a change in Iowa law that makes online wagering easier.
Sports wagering topped $104.8 million in December — making Iowa the eighth state to surpass $100 million in wagers in a single month. More than $78 million of those bets were placed online.
Sportsbooks paid out nearly $97.3 million in winnings, with a profit of $7.54 million.
The growth in sports wagering is spurred by a Jan. 1 change in Iowa law that allows Iowans to place legal bets online without having to visit a state-licensed casino and establish an account, as initially required when Iowa legalized sports wagering in August 2019.
“The sports numbers look good,” said Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the state Racing and Gaming Commission. “This is our highest month since we started back in 2019, and it was the first time we surpassed $100 million in handle. I did anticipate that we would eventually get there, but I think this is maybe a bit earlier than I thought.”
For the fiscal year that began last July 1, the sports-betting handle totaled nearly $419.5 million in six months; $300 million of those bets were placed remotely.
The wagering generated $2.37 million for the state, according to commission data issued Friday.
Gambling analysts project sports wagering could soon approach $1 billion a year in Iowa, and PlayIA.com analysts forecast that Iowa will grow into a market that generates more than $4 billion in bets annually within five years.
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“Assuming Iowa follows a similar pattern, which it should, online betting will not only represent an even larger share of the sports-betting pie, but it should also grow the overall size of that pie,” said Dustin Gouker, analyst for PlayIA.com, which tracks regulated online and retail gaming in the state. “Removing in-person registration is a huge step toward market maturity.”
Jessica Welman, another PlayIa.com analyst for PlayIA.com, agreed.
“What Iowa’s sports betting industry has achieved, becoming the seventh-largest market in the U.S., in spite of a significant handicap like in-person registration, has been impressive,” Welman said. “But with in-person registration now gone, Iowa’s sports betting market should take off. The monthly handle should make a jump forward in the coming months.”
To place bets, Iowa residents must be 21 or older. Wagers are accepted on professional and college sporting events or on daily fantasy sports sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel.
On a calendar-year basis, despite widespread cancellations of sports activities and closures of Iowa state-regulated casinos caused when the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Iowa last March, Iowa bettors wagered $575.2 million in 2020 ($405.2 million online) — likely placing the state seventh among legal sports betting jurisdictions in terms of handle (or bets placed).
Those bets produced $41.6 million in net receipts and $2.9 million in state taxes.
Ohorilko attributed December’s record sports-betting numbers to increased marketing and significant gains by four properties associated with Iowa casinos.
Currently, nine different sports betting companies have been licensed by the state agency to develop apps for Iowa bettors with a 10th “imminent.” he said.
Now that the in-person registration requirement is gone, Ohorilko said he expects monthly sports betting activity to stay above $100 million until at least April, when wagering tapers off after the football, March Madness basketball and other pro sports seasons end.
Casino visits down
According to separate commission data issued Friday, Iowa’s 19 state-regulated racetrack and riverboat casinos took in nearly $121.4 million in adjusted gross receipts in December, bringing year-to-date total to more than $705.9 million for the first six months of the current fiscal year.
That overall wagering generated $136.75 million in revenue for the state as 7,530,560 customers went through the turnstiles at Iowa’s casinos.
Ohorilko said December numbers were down 6 percent from a year ago and year-to-date adjusted gross revenue is off by about 5 percent, while admissions are down 27 percent through the last six months.
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“Things really aren’t bouncing back maybe as much as some of the operators had hoped,” he said. “It was not as good of a month as I think some of the operators would have hoped for. Attendance is still way off.”
But, at the same time, the casinos are on track for a better year than fiscal 2020 — ending on June 30 — when receipts slumped to $1.1 billion after Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered school and business closures to slow the COVID-19 spread that shuttered casino operations for 11 weeks, he added.
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