BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
BURLINGTON – An executive with Great River Entertainment in Burlington said a pending bill and Supreme Court decision on legalizing sports gambling in the state will take the “darkness” out of the $150 billion illegal gambling industry in the United States.
Gary Hoyer, CEO of Great River Entertainment, the parent company of Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington, said he doesn’t think the move will generate a lot of gambling revenues for the casino itself, but it will bring more patrons to the facility.
“If it’s legalized and we’re able to do it in Iowa, I would envision that Catfish Bend would participate,” Hoyer said Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve talked about different ways we could add that to our facility as a component and what that would look like. I’m not sure what the Iowa legislation is going to authorize and what they would allow us to do, but we would comply with regulations.”
Some casino and resorts in the state are formulating plans to deal with sports wagering in their facilities, some including sports book facilities.
Hoyer said he didn’t foresee any additional construction for the casino, but he has been looking at what options are available within the confines of the casino now.
“I don’t see us adding a building, but I do see us renovating and creating a space that’s unique and adds that sort of venue to our property,” he said. “I’m right in the middle of a major project right now and don’t see us adding in, but I do have room for something cool and exciting in the facility we have.”
What’s prompting the look-and-see stature is a case currently in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court that was argued last month, A federal law, the Professional and Amatuer Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, passed in 1992, that prohibits sports wagering in most states could be stricken down as being unconstitutional in its power to tell states they can’t regulate an illegal activity.
The case was argued in January and a decision is expected before the summer. In anticipation of that decision, House Study File 592, a bill that adds “sports gambling” to the Iowa Code definitions of gambling games, cleared the House Committee on State Government and is now in front of the House Commerce Committee. The bill provides for onsite and online sports wagering overseen by the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission.
Another hurdle in front of the proposed legislation is that the lobbyists for Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have come out against the Iowa bill unless they can grab 1% of the gross receipts of the wagering in the state. Numbers from the American Gaming Association estimate that about 95% of most sports wagering receipts are paid back to gamblers leaving 5% profit for the casinos. If the major league sports took 1% of the gross receipts, that amounts to 20% of the gross profits.
That doesn’t sit well with proponents of the bill.
“Yeah, and that’s not counting gaming tax. From what I’m being told, the economics don’t work if they take a 1%,” Hoyer said. “They don’t get that in Nevada why should they get that in Iowa. The major leagues are trying to scrape off a piece of that.”
Hoyer said as large of an industry as sports wagering is, it’s not a real profit center for the casino.
“It’ll get people in and participating in the game-watching and having cocktails and maybe doing something in the facility.”
The bill also contains language that would open up online sports wagering and companies could set up online wagering account services.
Hoyer said that the system would work better if there wasn’t an online option.
“I think it actually works better if we’re not online because it’s a such a thin profit center,” he said, “The benefit would be to get people to come to our facility. I’ve been told by our advisors that our leadership in Des Moines really wants to make it online to improve the involvement which would help with taxation. But If everybody had the ability to place bets online, I don’t see that translating into extra folks coming in to our facility.”
The bill would bring the $150 billion illegal market to light in the country and Hoyer said that’s good in many ways.
“I think it creates something new and different and something that people would try,” he said. “It’s obvious from statistics there is a huge appetite and market for betting on sports already. But it’s unregulated through bookies and not safe and it certainly doesn’t create a tax revenue. When the states take it over, they take a tax for one, and number two, it eliminates the dark and shady characters in the background making an illegal profit. Bringing it out of the closet, taxing it and regulating it improves things for everyone.”
Currently only Delaware and Nevada have active legal sports betting due to a grandfather clause in the act for states that had previous licensed state gaming and met the law’s criteria.
“They’ve justified it for so many years with the grandfather clause in Nevada, but casinos are opening up and they can do it. That doesn’t sound like any grandfather clause I’ve ever heard of,” he said. It would be nice if all states could participate.”