Iowa’s 19 bricks-and-mortar casinos closed their doors on March 17 and are yet to reopen. More than 18 000 jobs are at stake, and the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s revenue report for April 2020 from the state-licensed casinos in the Hawkeye State was littered with zeros.
The Iowa economy is unique given its exposure to casino closures, being second only to the state of Nevada in terms of gambling rates per capita. With that being the case, the time may have finally arrived for Iowa’s lawmakers to consider rolling the dice and moving with the online times ASAP in order to future-proof the casino industry.
Other states with mature online casino industries like Pennsylvania and New Jersey have managed to presently roll with the difficult times and supply themselves with a additional revenue stream in order to cope with, if not overcome, the doors of their land-based casinos being closed.
Iowa casinos to reopen, but will it be enough to survive?
The Hawkeye State’s casinos should soon be able to offer their services again, albeit in a significantly reduced capacity. The casinos’ regular clientele may possibly be put-off visiting Iowa casinos by possible health concerns, despite the sanitary procedures bound to be put in place.
However, since there is an obvious online alternative to allow people to access sports betting or play their favorite casino games from the safety of their own homes, clearly it is time for the state’s lawmakers to urgently get onboard with online wagering.
To start, Iowa legislators would need to permit registration for sports betting accounts online as soon as possible. Online sports betting was legislated as legal under Iowan law in 2019, however, customers must first visit a bricks-and-mortar casino in order to sign-up.
This current state of play is scheduled to expire only in January 2021, but of course, it was never designed to cope with the demands of a global pandemic. Clearly, its now seems an extremely dangerous and impractical policy, particularly even more so that sports will begin again soon (fan and crowd-free of course) and safe and secure access to sports betting will be required. Nor should it be a difficult task, just roll forward the proposed January 1 2021 forward by a few months.
April 2020 Gaming Figures show how badly Iowa online wagering is needed
In April 2019, Iowa’s land-based casinos reported gross receipts (adjusted) of almost $123.4 million and paid more than $27.6 million in state taxes – a windfall for the Hawkeye State Government coffers. Fast forward to April 2020, and those 19 casino operators had no casino revenue at all. Read that again. That’s right – zero revenue.
Iowa’s new land-based sports betting option – worth almost $60 million a month during the fall football and winter basketball period – fell to a betting handle of $1.5 million, and $155,331 in receipts as professional and college sports were closed and betting options were somewhat limited.
Compare those numbers to those of New Jersey and Pennsylvania – April 2020 online wagering handles of $54.6 million and $46 million respectively. Moreover, having fought so long to see off illegal sports betting, a legal online option could kill off pirate sports betting rings forever in the Hawkeye State.
It all comes at a time of generational time too, as Tom Coates, executive director of a credit counseling service in Des Moines explained;
“The casinos’ model is dwindling down” he said. “The bread and butter of the casinos is the slot machines. It’s 80 percent generally of a casino’s revenue and that model is dying out because it’s the older people who were willing to sit on a stool for hours and play the slots. The young kids — the millennial’s and what have you — they’re not interested in it.”