Organizations wrangle over managing sports betting in Iowa

DES MOINES — Grocers and convenience stores, restaurants and the state’s horsing racing industry are competing with casinos for a piece of sports betting action.

The debate played out this week in House and Senate committees reviewing bills to make bets on college and professional sports legal in Iowa, through a variety of venues.

Iowa Lottery vice president Mary Neubauer briefed lawmakers on Delaware’s experience with a sports lottery and sports book operations at casinos.

“Real world examples show that different types of sports gaming products can co-exist within a state,” Neubauer said.

Doug Beach, legal counsel for Casey’s General Stores, said basic bets on games could easily be placed through lottery terminals in convenience stores.

“We think it’s important when you consider this type of legislation that you make it easy for Iowans to participate and that includes Iowans in all 99 counties and small-town Iowa,” Beach said.

Representatives for Iowa restaurants and grocery stores told legislators there would be an increase in foot traffic in stores in all 99 counties rather than just the 19 state-licensed casinos if their industries get to offer a sports lottery.

Wes Ehrecke is president of the Iowa Gaming Association, representing the state’s commercial casinos, and he argued against the lottery’s involvement.

“We do question having them involved with the sports betting aspect,” Ehrecke told lawmakers. “There’s a lot of risk and volatility.”

Ehrecke said the casinos are best equipped to manage that risk.

For the past six years Iowa’s horse racing industry has the contract for taking bets, in Iowa, on the Kentucky Derby and other horse races around the country. Representatives of the group are asking legislators to give them the only contract to manage sports betting within the state’s borders.