When Rhythm City Casino Resort constructed a new casino in Davenport a few years ago, General Manager Mo Hyder said the land-based facility was designed with legal sports betting in mind.
"We included a sports lounge with the intent of some day being able to use it as a sports betting venue," Hyder said. "I think everybody had anticipated sports betting, as more and more states around the country adopt it. So preliminary work occurred, and as soon as the governor signed it into law, we were positioned to move forward."
The casino, in the Elmore Avenue corridor, will celebrate its three-year anniversary in June. And now that Gov. Kim Reynolds signed legislation this spring to allow sports wagering, Rhythm City is one casino, out of 19 in Iowa, working to finalize renovation plans, establish third-party gaming partnerships and obtain a license.
State officials say rules could be in order by football season, allowing casinos to offer legal sports betting as early as this fall.
The law legalized betting on professional and college athletics, as well as on daily fantasy sports sites, such as DraftKings and FanDuel. Bets can be placed in Iowa's state-run casinos, plus online and on mobile apps.
Legal gamblers, those age 21 and older, can place bets at any of the state casinos offering a sportsbook. Iowa will collect a 6.75% tax on the casinos' sports-betting "hold," which is the house's share after bets have been settled.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year cleared the way for states other than Nevada to offer legal sports wagering.
Illinois is considering legalizing sports betting, which has been one goal included in Gov. J.B. Pritzker's agenda. After Indiana, Iowa became the second state in the Midwest to legalize it.
Now, sports and gambling enthusiasts are waiting on the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to approve rules and regulations. Administrator Brian Ohorilko said regulations will include how sportsbooks operate, what types of wagers can be offered, how player accounts should operate, measures for problem gambling and more.
"The commission is reviewing the current regulations from other jurisdictions that have approved sports wagering," he said. "We're looking at player protections and controls. Through the review of other states, we're able to see what's working and what isn't working, and that should help us come up with the best set of regulations."
He said the commission hopes to present the regulations to stakeholders in the next few weeks and hold a public meeting in July. He hopes to have everything approved by mid-August, in time for fall football season.
"It's moving very quickly, and a lot of people are excited," Ohorilko said. "But there's a difference between hurrying and cutting corners. We'll make sure we present the best, complete product."
Before Iowans can begin placing bets, casinos also must have renovation plans approved and go through the licensing process. Casinos will be required to pay a $45,000 licensing fee, plus a $10,000 renewal fee each year.
Wes Ehrecke, president and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, said casinos across the state are working on plans to add wagering windows for placing bets, kiosks and screens to display ongoing games.
Hyder said it's too early to elaborate on Rhythm City's plans for rebuilding its sports lounge, but said the scope of work will soon be submitted to the state.
Colin Spewak, a spokesperson with Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf, declined an interview, adding it was too early to discuss sports betting. Officials with Jumer's Casino & Hotel in Rock Island did not return calls for comment.
Meanwhile, "We're seeing a number of casinos preparing various areas for sports wagering," said Ohorilko, the gaming commission administrator. "Some are taking small steps, including putting up additional televisions or preparing wagering terminals. And we're seeing significant changes to where there's up to $1 million being invested at some casinos."
The passage of sports betting came with some controversy, with advocates arguing the bill allows the state to capture more revenue, legalizing an industry that has existed in the shadows for years. Opponents largely voiced concerns over the furthering of gambling addiction.
Ehrecke argued the law will legitimize the industry and allow gamblers to place wagers in a safe manner.
"Unless people went to Vegas, it was all sort of done on the black market or on illegal internet sites," he said. "So, we'll have to change people's habits. But, it's pretty exciting to see a strong interest across all demographics. People of all ages and all sectors enjoy watching sports and have their favorite teams to perhaps bet on. It's another entertainment amenity to offer in the state."
Proponents hope sports betting will bring new visitors to casinos and generate more state revenue. Tax revenue from casinos is used to retire state debt, rebuild infrastructure, pay for skilled worker and education programs, plus fund charities.
So far, tax revenue has fallen short of projections in four of the six states where sports betting began last year, according to an Associated Press analysis.
"It's a very low-margin business, with not a lot of revenue for the state," Ehrecke said. "But what we've seen in other states is sort of organic growth. People come in to place sports bets, then check out table games and play poker or slots — then, spend money on beverages and food. So, that all helps with tax revenue."
For Hyder, he said offering sports betting is another way for Rhythm City Casino in Davenport to stay competitive.
"Obviously, we've very excited for the sports betting opportunity, as it provides another option for our customers, energizes our resorts and gives us another way to really showcase the beautiful properties we have," Hyder said.