BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
BURLINGTON – A bill that would permit sports wagering and betting on fantasy sports sites is now in front of Gov. Kim Reynolds and Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington has released tentative plans to address new potential customers.
Gary Hoyer, CEO of Great River Entertainment, the parent company of Catfish Bend Casino, said, if and when the bill is signed into law, it will bring illegal gambling in Iowa out of the shadows.
“We all just woke up to this today,” Hoyer said Tuesday afternoon.
“The Governor will get it in the next day or two. There have been discussions about when she’ll be signing it, but she has not indicated, to my knowledge, what her intentions are. Both parties in the House and Senate supported this bill. It brings sports betting out of the shadows, regulates it and taxes it, and places it under the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which has a long reputation of integrity.”
The door was opened for the legislation when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports wagering last year.
Catfish Bend is partnering with PointsBet, an international sportsbook company with experience in online, in-person, and mobile sports wagering.
Hoyer said the company is a great strategic partner with successful operations in New Jersey, Australia, and other locations.
“They are a great strategic partner. They know the app world very well and they are very good at setting up vibrant sports online activities, as well as physical facilities,” he said.
The American Gaming Association cites more than $150 billion annually is spent in the U.S. on illegal sports gambling, but Hoyer said the margin between what people spend and what the payouts are is very thin.
“I don’t see sports betting in Iowa to be hugely profitable, but it presents an opportunity to create new activity, new interest, and possibly attract a younger demographic from time to time. It will add to the offerings that we have in the casino,” Hoyer said.
Plans for the casino include an enhanced sports bar with a large television for sports, combined with the bar and limited appetizers. There will also be slot machines and gaming tables embedded with the project that will be built on site.
There are some limitations in the legislation that prohibit in-game betting on Iowa collegiate sports.
“Once the game starts there’d be no further betting allowed on an Iowa collegiate sports activity. The in-game bets, such as who will throw the next TD, who’s gonna kick the next three field goals, those types of things are not going to be allowed for Iowa collegiate sports,” Hoyer said.
The bill provides for a 6.75% tax rate plus an additional .75% that would go to non-profits, like the Southeast Iowa Regional Riverboat Commission. Hoyer said that would come off the net profit of the casino, not the total amount wagered.
He said the real game changer is that you can bet from your phone. Those wanting to set up an app on their phone would have to come to the casino to get the program set up. The IRGC has not informed state casinos what information will be needed for the app. Hoyer also said the account would have to be connected to a debit card, not a credit card and you would have to be in-state to place bets through the app.
“They will use geofencing so you would physically have to be in the state with your phone to place a bet,” Hoyer said. “Out-of-state residents can set up an account, but you have to be in the state for the app to work.”
Hoyer says if the bill is signed, it will have an impact on gambling revenues, but he said it won’t be as big as some are predicting.
“It truly will make a difference, but not as large of a business activity as some in the media are painting it,” Hoyer said. “We’ll know more as we investigate it further. Right now we’re putting together thoughts and expectations and designs.”