Iowa appeared early in 2018 poised to become one of the first movers on legal sports betting, but the leading bill seeking to implement Iowa sports betting has not seen movement since early March and there’s a legislative deadline of April 17 looming.
But that is not a hard deadline and the bill’s sponsor, Representative Jake Highfill for the House State Government Committee, does have bipartisan support for the measure. He said on Wednesday that the legislature will work past April 17, leaving open the possibility for the passage of House File 2448 (successor to House Study Bill 592), which would legalize sports wagering in Iowa. It has cleared the House Ways and Means Committee, but has not yet seen the full House floor.
“’I’m still optimistic that we get something done this year,” Highfill told SportsHandle. “We’re working behind the scenes on both sides to get something done. It’s one of those issues where we’re not going to move it any farther until we have consensus across the board in the Senate and in the Governor’s Office, as well. We’re working on that to make everybody at ease … We will definitely work past next Tuesday. That artificial deadline does not apply, because we will definitely work past it.”
Iowa Sports Betting Bill Has Support and Still May Make It Through Despite Looming Legislative Deadline
That artificial deadline means that lawmakers do not get paid past April 17 and staffs get sent home, which is certainly incentive to take care of business.
And, of course the legalization of sports betting is contingent in every state upon the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the 1992 federal ban on full-fledged sports betting outside Nevada. In the Supreme Court sports-betting case, aka Murphy v NCAA, New Jersey is challenging the constitutionality of the law on states’ rights grounds and there’s at least a decent chance the law falls. The high court heard oral argument on Dec. 4, 2017, but has not yet issued a decision.
“The Supreme Court ruling that didn’t come out a couple weeks ago really actually didn’t help us,” Highfill said. “I really think that if they would’ve given us that Supreme Court case ruling in our favor, we would’ve had it done by now because of the momentum.”
State senator Mark Segebart (R-District 6) also recently expressed support for legal sports wagering.
“I think it was Ronald Reagan who once said the function of government should be as a referee to make the playing field level for everybody to grow,” Segebart told the Daily Times Herald this week. “With that I would say, yeah, I would support allowing [sports betting].”
Representative Brian Best told SportsHandle on Wednesday: “[Rep. Highfill] told me that he is working with the Senate to get support. If he feels it will pass the Senate he will run it on the House Floor. We are a week from our scheduled end of session, so the odds of it getting passed are probably less than 50/50. I so believe that it is a matter of time until it passes. If not this year, hopefully next year.”
And if it is next year, Best and others are aware that local bookies and offshores will fill the void in an unregulated market.
“My thought on it is that people are doing it anyway, and I think there is probably more safety built into a system that is regulated,” Best said during a legislative forum on Saturday. “I think everybody in this room knows there is such a thing as a bookie.”
What’s In And What’s Out of the Bill
The bill does not mention mobile/online sports wagering, but Highfill has previously said that mobile is an essential component of any modern sports-wagering bill aimed at eliminating the black market, and it would appear in the bill’s final form, should it advance.
The NBA and MLB, as they are in nearly every state considering the legalization of sports betting, are pushing a“betting rights and integrity fee” on lawmakers as well as their bogus, monopoly-seeking grab for exclusive rights to sell data to sportsbook operators for grading wagers. So far Iowa lawmakers have not been receptive to either of these two main league requests (and they are requests) — but are open to sharing wagering data with the leagues for investigative purposes.
As for the tax rate on gross sports wagering revenue, HF 2448 would levy five percent on the first $1 million of adjusted gross receipts, and 10 percent on the next $2 million. After that, the rate would be 22 percent. With more than 20 commercial casinos in Iowa, more than $3 million revenue at any one entity would be a real hurdle to clear in the first year(s) of operation, but even if one casino/operator did, at least they likely would not face a sports-league tax.
For Highfill, one of the hurdles has been educating his colleagues on sports betting.
“It took me weeks and weeks educating every single House member about this issue,” he said. “I have to do that now in the Senate and to the Governor. We are working through that process now and making sure people understand the issue and what it is.”
Highfill and some others following sports-betting legislation closely are also mindful of what’s happening in neighboring states, including Missouri and Minnesota where there’s a possibility for legalization.
And as that soft legislative deadline approaches, Highfill still has relatively high hopes.
“We have the votes [in the House]. We have the votes [in the Senate], too. But we’re just making sure sure that people are okay with the language in the bill and that everything’s there.”