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Sports betting in Iowa slumps in July Rebound expected with the return of football
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Sports betting in Iowa slumps in July Rebound expected with the return of football

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DES MOINES — Sports wagering slumped in July as bettors took a breather before heading into the start of college and professional football seasons, which are expected to rev up legal betting for sportsbooks that generated about $1.7 billion in the two years they have been licensed in Iowa.

Last month’s $88.9 million wagering handle marked the first time sports betting has dipped below the $100 million mark dating back to November 2020, according to data issued Friday by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.

“We expected to see a decline this month in numbers; however, we were unsure how much,” said Brian Ohorilko, commission administrator. “I have heard from a few operators in our state and have read in a few national industry publications that wagering is less than expected on the Olympics.

“Some speculation is because of the time difference between the U.S. and Japan,” he added. “This is anecdotal, however, as most states do not have a base to compare to since last year was disrupted with COVID and the last Olympics was some time ago.”

July wagering, which generated more than $7.1 million in net receipts for operators and $479,479 in state taxes, was down 20 percent from June’s $111.2 million handle and well below the record $161.44 million last March in the throes of the college basketball tournament. Iowa has posted a streak of four month-over-month declines with bettors placing $2.9 million in daily wagers last month, according to PlayIA.com, a website that tracks the Iowa gaming market.

Iowa gamblers post record year. Fiscal 2021 wagering, led by casinos, tops $3 billion

“The Olympics and the later-than-usual NBA Finals gave bettors more opportunities to place a bet than what would be a typical July, but neither were able to move the needle much,” said Jessica Welman, analyst for the PlayUSA.com Network, which includes PlayIA.com.

“Bettors simply check out in July, when summer vacations and other pursuits take precedence,” Welman noted. “But a surge in betting will certainly come with the beginning of the football season.”

Next week will mark the second anniversary of legal sports wagering in Iowa. Licensed sportsbooks using online apps or in-person options at state-licensed casinos generated $1.7 billion in wagering that produced about $122.8 million in gross gaming revenue and $8.3 million in state tax revenue during the 24 months of operation.

Iowans wager monthly record $104 million on sports

“Iowa has experienced so many twists and turns over the last two years, but the state’s sportsbooks find themselves in a good place,” Welman said. “Sportsbooks will hit more than $1 billion in wagering by September at the latest, nearly doubling the handle for all of 2020 before football kicks off. That is staggering growth.”

Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos continued to see strong numbers as the industry rebounds from a shutdown last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a gradual recovery in attendance, which saw 1,665,726 patrons through the turnstiles and $157.4 million in adjusted gross revenue in July.

State taxes on gambling profits topped $24.2 million last month.

Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, an umbrella group for the licensed casinos in Iowa, attributed last month’s casino gambling numbers to “the pent up demand, people having more dollars from last year to spend on entertainment, and patrons getting vaccinated” as contributing factors.

Ehrecke also noted that July sports betting numbers were expected to be down “with limited major sports to wager on compared to football and basketball, and the Olympics not being as attractive of an option.”

“That lull will be changing significantly by September and it will be exciting to see what the numbers will be this fall with more mobile sports wagering choices,” he added.

Effective last Jan. 1, Iowans 21 and older no longer were required under state law to travel to a state-licensed casino to set up an account that allowed them to place bets at a casino or online but instead were able to register using mobile apps or their smartphones or other electronic devices.

Last month more than $77.9 million in wagers were placed via online apps, while about $11 million done by “retail” in-person betting, according to commission data.

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