In this series, we will look at six states considered the most likely to offer regulated, legal online poker in the US. For the sixth installment, we look at Iowa — a state that authorized riverboat casinos in 1989, racinos in 1994, and sports betting in 2019. Analysts remain bullish on Iowa, becoming one of the next states to expand into online poker and casino gaming.
Real money US online poker is currently legal and operational in five US states — Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Could Iowa be the sixth state? Possibly, but a two-year moratorium on issuing additional gaming licenses, coupled with “gaming fatigue” among state lawmakers, means the Hawkeye State is unlikely to change its gaming laws before 2024.
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Moratorium Result of Fight Over Proposed Cedar Rapids Casino
Things got interesting in the Iowa General Assembly this year.
In February, lawmakers began considering a gaming bill, House File 2497. The original bill concerned a host of gaming issues — cashless wagering, the forfeiture, and withholding of certain gaming winnings, sports wagering, occupational licenses, and simulcasting licensure and taxation.
But on May 23, an amendment was attached to HF 2497, which called for enacting a two-year respite on issuing new gaming licenses. The bill set a cap of 19 licenses until June 30, 2024. Iowa currently has 19 licensees.
HF 2497 passed the Senate and the House of Representatives by wide margins on the same day the amendment was introduced — on votes of 35-11 and 60-23 in favor, respectively. Republican Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law on June 17, and the two-year moratorium took immediate effect.
During a May 27 interview on the PBS program Iowa Press, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny) conceded that one reason why lawmakers agreed to the two-year moratorium was to prevent the city of Cedar Rapids from applying for a casino license with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) for a third time.
“Over the last few years, there have been a lot of changes to our gaming laws, and there have been changes that will affect Iowa — like Nebraska bringing casinos on board,” Whitver said.
“There’s a lot of gaming fatigue within the Capitol, including in our caucus. There were a couple of changes this year — they weren’t drastic changes, but people said they don’t believe we need another casino right now. They wanted to take a brief pause and see how Nebraska shakes out and see how our new gaming laws, including sports betting, are really shaking out before we build another casino.”
Regulator Approved Request for FanDuel
Whitver’s claim that Republican lawmakers in the state were tired of gaming issues is a bit of a puzzler since there has been no legislative action to expand iGaming — by offering online poker and casino gaming — since sports betting was legalized in 2019.
An expansion into either vertical isn’t far from the minds at the IRGC.
An October 6 report by the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) shows the regulator approved at its meeting on September 29 a request from the Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque to amend and restate its online market access agreement with FanDuel.
According to the LSA, “one item included in the amendment was a provision that allows [FanDuel] to have priority in operating an online casino or online poker game in the event such future legislation was to pass that allows online gambling.”
FanDuel operates retail and online sportsbooks at Diamond Jo. It also runs a retail sportsbook at the Diamond Jo Worth Casino in Northwood.
Analysts: Iowa Would Be Small iGaming State
One month before the moratorium kicked in, analysts with Morgan Stanley issued a report on expanding iGaming that included revenue forecasts for Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa — four states that don’t currently offer online poker or casino.
The report projected that if Iowa legalized online poker and casino gaming in 2024 — the year the moratorium ends — the state would generate $269 million in iGaming revenue in 2024. That figure increases to $358 million in 2025, $394 million in 2026, $430 million in 2027, and $466 million in 2028.
Morgan Stanley likely did not account for the moratorium in its projections, considering it passed the legislature when the analysts’ report came out.
If those figures were realized, Iowa in 2028 would be one of the smallest iGaming states in terms of revenue — ahead of only Connecticut (which Morgan Stanley estimated would have $432 million in revenue by 2028), Delaware ($31 million), Nevada ($32 million), and West Virginia ($150 million).
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Iowa is No Stranger to Major Poker Operators
Iowa’s gaming regimen requires online operators to partner with a racino, a land-based casino, or a riverboat casino for sports betting. But while there are 19 licensed online operators, they each have varying degrees of exposure to Iowa players.
The US’s three most prominent online poker operators — BetMGM, PokerStars, and WSOP — have direct and indirect market access in Iowa through sports betting. WSOP is owned by Caesars, while Flutter Entertainment owns PokerStars and FanDuel.
Of the trio, Caesars has by far the biggest footprint in Iowa. It operates retail and mobile sportsbooks at six gaming properties in the state:
- Harrah’s Council Bluffs Hotel and Casino
- Horseshoe Council Bluffs Casino
- Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo
- Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf
- Lakeside Hotel Casino, a riverboat casino in Osceola
- Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack & Hotel, a racino in Altoona
WSOP, through Caesars, could ultimately offer online poker and casino gaming through any or all of the six properties, depending on the specifics of any future iGaming expansion legislation.
BetMGM and PokerStars have fewer options.
PokerStars could launch online poker in Iowa at a property where FanDuel currently offers sports betting. FanDuel operates retail and online sportsbooks at Diamond Jo and a retail sportsbook at Diamond Jo Worth. Meanwhile, BetMGM operates an online sportsbook at Diamond Jo Worth.
Although BetRivers doesn’t currently have a poker platform, its parent, Rush Street Interactive (RSI), is rumored to be building one. Last March, RSI acquired Phil Galfond’s Run It Once Poker (RIO) platform and onboarded the development team that built it.
If BetRivers offered online casino and poker, it would likely be through the land-based casino license of one of two properties — the Wild Rose Casino & Resort in Clinton or the Wild Rose Casino & Resort in Jefferson.
Potential Online Poker Operators in IA
|Operator||Likely to Launch Poker?||Possible Land-Based Casino Partner|
|BetMGM||Yes||Diamond Jo Worth Casino|
|BetRivers||Maybe||Wild Rose Casino & Resort|
|PokerStars||Yes||Diamond Jo Casino|
|WSOP||Yes||Harrah’s Council Bluffs Hotel and Casino|
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