As states have transitioned into legalizing and launching online sports betting, some states are taking the next step and exploring adding online casino gambling to their online offerings.
Iowa launched its online sports betting platforms on Aug. 15, 2019, and is now one of the states open to adding online casino gambling for its residents.
“We’re just in the very beginning stages,” Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Casino Association, said. “We’re just trying to get the gaming companies in the state to talk through this and prioritize our issues for 2021.”
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Ehrecke and the casinos within the state will make their case for online casino gaming to lawmakers next session. The Iowa Legislature has adjourned for the year, with lawmakers scheduled to return to session on Jan. 11, 2021. Ehrecke and his staff plan to use the time to prep their pitch.
“We’re going to get legislation drafted to have all my members vet so we can get as unified as possible,” he said. “Have the main talking points as unified as possible so we can all be on the same page to bring forth why this is a good thing to consider doing, and to see what kind of interest there may be.
“We’ll have to wait for until after the election to know who the leadership is and who we will be working with and the committee chairs, and then begin that educational awareness process.”
Iowa casinos were shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The state has 19 commercial casinos, with 18 taking sports bets and 13 of those featuring mobile sports betting platforms. Iowa’s online sports betting systems gave residents an opportunity to bet from their phones or computers while at home.
And with the uncertainty around the length of the current pandemic, Ehrecke hopes online casino gaming will eventually become an option for Iowans to play from the comfort of their homes.
”In most places, 70% of the total sports wagering has been via mobile apps versus retail,” Ehrecke said. “Right now, there’s still a group of people that because of the coronavirus, don’t want to come into a casino. Admissions are off around 30% the last couple of months, so if you had something like this in place if this pandemic were to continue, then this could help for people to do some of their wagering but do it in what they might feel is a safe environment.
“God forbid we’d ever have to close the doors again because of the coronavirus. We could have a shelter in place and I think this could really help to have this option going forward and for people being able to wager via their mobile compared to coming into the retail. It could be a good blend of both.”
The state still has an in-person registration requirement in place for sports betting, but that ends on Jan. 1, 2021, according to the state law.
States with online casino gaming platforms already in place were able to soften the revenue blow from casinos being shut down.
During the month of May in in New Jersey, when casinos were closed, the state had more than $85 million in online casino ($81,423,413) and online poker revenue ($4,516,529). In June, internet gaming revenue was $84,913,147, up 123.1% compared to June 2019 ($38,058,244).
“When we were closed for like 11 weeks, there was not only no revenue coming in for the casinos, but also for the state,” Ehrecke said. “For the four states that had online gaming while all the casinos were closed, they increased revenue during the time compared to last year. There was a significant increase.”
Michigan is the lone Midwest state with legalized online casinos and is looking at a possible November launch date.
Illinois and Indiana, along with Iowa, are also expected to make a push for online gaming in the months to come. All four states already offer online sports betting, putting the infrastructure in place for future online gaming casinos.
“It’s a matter of getting what the language would look like, because we want this to run through our casino licenses,” Ehrecke said of Iowa’s future proposal. “Not unlike how we legalized sports wagering and we had a mobile component to the legalized sports wagering. So there have already been things put in place from a couple years ago that we feel we can use as comparison language to promote why this could be a popular thing to consider doing for those that want to enjoy online gaming.”