DES MOINES — Last month’s college basketball “madness” carried over to Iowa’s sports betting apps, with wagering hitting a new monthly record of nearly $161.4 million in March.
Figures posted by the state Racing and Gaming Commission indicated the March betting handle topped January’s monthly record of $149.5 million
Most of the wagers -- 86 percent -- were placed via online sportsbook websites.
“That’s our highest month to date,” said Commission Administrator Brian Ohorilko, who attributed the surge to interest in conference basketball tournaments and three weeks of NCAA “March Madness” games.
“College basketball is very popular in this state,” Ohorilko said.
Iowa’s monthly record for sports betting also was fueled by an aggressive marketing effort by the 11 sportsbooks that have entered into agreements with Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos to conduct legal wagering since the law took effect in August 2019 and online access expanded Jan. 1.
“It’s very exciting and very encouraging,” said Wes Ehrecke, a spokesman for the Iowa Gaming Association, an umbrella group for Iowa’s licensed casinos. “People are using their mobile apps and wagering throughout the state.”
About $139.4 million, or 86 percent, of the March wagering handle involved bets placed via the 11 sportsbooks offering internet access in Iowa, while just over $22 million of the wagers were placed in person at Iowa casinos, according to commission records.
Winnings by Iowa players totaled nearly $148 million. The sportsbooks netted nearly $13.5 million in profits and paid $908,011 in state taxes.
For the first three quarters of fiscal 2021, Iowans have wagered more than $874 million on college and professional sports events, with net receipts to the gambling industry approaching $67.7 million and state tax collections totaling $4.57 million.
“Iowa was one of the few legal sports betting jurisdictions to actually improve per-day betting in February, so it is no surprise that sportsbooks set new highs in March,” said Jessica Welman, an analyst for PlayIA.com.
“With new operators coming online and the in-person registration requirement long gone, the Hawkeye State is well-positioned ahead of the inevitable summer slowdown,” she said.
Iowa also set a record for per-day betting average at $5.2 million in March’s 31 days.
Ohorilko said he anticipated the volume of sports wagering advertisements would level off somewhat as betting moves into “a quiet period” before ramping up for the fall football season.
But he noted that Iowa remains a growing and competitive market with “potentially” another 15 online sportsbook companies entering the market.
The increased sports betting activity and favorable weather had positive benefits for the casinos as well, he noted, with March adjusted gross revenue at the 19 state-licensed facilities hitting $166.6 million – a jump of $24 million compared to March 2019 – and year-to-date revenue approached $1.115 billion.
“It was a very good month,” said Ohorilko, who noted last month’s revenue ranked as among the best for March since riverboat gambling began in 1991.
One year ago, the casinos were closed for half of March and sports betting halted due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Ehrecke said the March casino admissions -- 1,675,691 -- indicate Iowans are returning to entertainment venues and getting involved in more activities.
“I believe there is renewed optimism by more people getting their vaccines and wanting to get out.
I think that is attracting more people back. Hopefully this trend will continue and we can just turn the corner,” he said. “At least I believe we’re headed in the right direction.”