DES MOINES — Iowans traveling to state-licensed casinos to bet on sports or establish online accounts apparently also are trying their hand at table games and slot machines while there.
Patron “foot traffic” generated by Iowa’s requirement that sports bettors initially go to a licensed casino to establish an online account and meet the qualifications to participate has created an overall positive bump in gambling revenue, said Brian Ohorilko, administrator for the state Racing & Gaming Commission.
An Iowa law that legalized betting on professional and college athletics took effect Aug. 15.
“We’re seeing the market up overall about 4.5 percent year over year” compared with the July through November period last fiscal year, said Ohorilko. Typically, he noted, adjusted gross revenue at the 19 state-licensed casinos has hovered around the 1-2 percent increase or decrease range in recent years.
“That is definitely encouraging,” he said of the surge in betting and casino admissions since mid-August.
“Admissions are up almost 4 percent in the casinos and slot revenue is up, but we’re seeing a significant increase in table play — up about 7.5 percent,” Ohorilko noted. “That will be interesting to see if that trend continues.”
Revenue at five state-licensed casinos is down year over year so far in fiscal 2020, Ohorilko said, while 14 are up in overall revenue.
Adjusted gross revenue at Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos stood at nearly $614 million and admissions totaled 8,591,467 in the five months ending in November, according to commission documents.
For all of fiscal 2019, adjusted gross revenue was $1.457 billion and admissions were 19,863,057.
“I would say we’re seeing new customers, new patron traffic from a sports wagering standpoints,” said Dan Franz, general manager of Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, which Ohorilko said was among this year’s best-performing venues.
Franz said his facility underwent a major renovation in 2018 that put “a brand-new face on the property,” so he attributed much of this year’s uptick to upgrades that made the casino “much more comfortable, much more welcoming and a livable environment for our guests.”
But he said the facility’s restaurant that houses the sportsbook operation also is experiencing additional business. “We’re definitely seeing a bump during this football season in food and beverage revenue in that outlet,” he said.
Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, an umbrella group for the state-licensed casinos, said there has been a spike in the overall gambling numbers in the past few months — thanks to new customer interest in sports betting that has spilled over to the casino floor.
“It’s since August when this started launching that we’ve had some consecutive months that have had increased traffic and admissions and revenue. So you have to assume that sports wagering — the launch of that — has been a contributor to that,” said Ehrecke.
“It’s certainly an additional entertainment amenity for those that enjoy watching sports and betting on sports,” he added. “It’s a real positive. Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect because it’s something very new to Iowa. It’s great to see this is a positive.”
Iowa’s law legalizes betting not only on pro and college athletics, but also on daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, which Ohorilko said just finished a first month of operations in Iowa.
The new law does not allow in-game sports bets on in-state college teams such as the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones.
About 60 percent of Iowa’s sports betting activity in now online and net state taxes collected on the nearly $153 million wagering handle at 18 state-licensed casinos — excluding Casino Queen Marquette — stood at $1,104,976 based upon a tax rate of 6.75 percent, according to commission figures.
Last month Iowans placed more than $59.3 million in bets either online or in person. The payout was $55.7 million.
The overall numbers break down to nearly $85.1 million wagered online using the apps now offered by 10 casinos and $67.9 million via the venues where betting activity is retail — meaning patrons have to travel to a casino where they’ve registered to physically place a bet.
Overall adjusted gross revenue stood at nearly $16.4 million for the year to date — split $9.74 million retail and $6.635 million online, according to commission data.
Eric Preuss, manager of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Iowa Gambling Treatment program, said it is too early in Iowa’s experience with legalized sports betting to measure potential problems associated with an activity that already may have been going on but not under state regulation.
“We still have individuals that are coming in for treatment for sports wagering but it’s not necessarily a higher rate than prior to the legalization of sports wagering,” Preuss noted. “We’ve started tracking sports wagering-specific calls to 1-800-BETSOFF and to YourLifeIowa.org back in August and we’ve seen some but it’s kind of early. We projected that we would probably see an increase in the number of admissions but it’s a bit of throwing a dart on a wall because we really don’t know.”
According to data given to legislators last April, researchers estimated that about 6 percent of adult Iowans — 130,000 people — had bet on sports in the past 12 months and that about one in five adult Iowans — or about 430,000 — had bet or wagered on games of skill, office pools or other sport betting in the past 12 months.
“We were having sports wagerers show up for treatment already because they were betting illegally,” Preuss said. “Well, now it’s legal, so are we going to see the same people or are we going to see new people? It’s still too early to kind of see how that’s all going to shake out.”
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