The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission reported that state revenue from casino gambling was up considerably in 2018. The casino industry in Iowa had revenue of $1.5 billion in 2018. This figure represents the best year the casinos in Iowa have seen since 2012.
In all, Iowa’s revenue from casino gambling totaled more than $320 million last year. Experts expect this increase to grow in 2019 because Iowa became the 11th state to legalize sports gambling. The state is hoping to have sportsbooks up and running before the NFL season begins in September.
Iowa’s Gambling Record
Unlike other Midwestern states, Iowa has a long history of sports-related gambling. The state passed a law in 1983 that legalized pari-mutuel betting. It also legalized greyhound racing and horse racing with harnesses in 1985. Iowa was also one of the first states in the Midwest to legalize riverboat gambling. There are 19 commercial casinos in Iowa. There are also several Native American casinos.
Increases across the Board
Iowa’s experiences with gambling led many legislators to question why they voted to legalize gambling at all. While the state’s economy survived the initial economic slide of the Great Recession in 2008, it didn’t last. Iowa saw a significant economic downturn in 2013, with gambling revenue down considerably. The unemployment rate also skyrocketed. People had a lot less money to spend at casinos and race tracks. In fact, the state was facing a double whammy. The same time the state was facing the economic downturn, it was also facing dwindling tax revenue.
It took five years for Iowa to begin to climb out of the economic slump. But the state has come back in a hurry. There are many factors that can attribute to the increase in revenue. First, the economy in Iowa has rebounded along with the rest of the country. The increase in economic prosperity has led to a rock-bottom unemployment rate. At 2.5 percent, Iowa’s unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the nation. While unemployment is low, wages are rising. Also, the average personal income of Iowans has gone up 5.5 percent in the last three years. Not many states have such a rosy economic outlook. All these economic figures have led to an increase in spending on leisure and gambling.
The Biggest Winners
Iowa’s slot revenue in 2018 was more than $1.3 billion. The table games revenue from the casinos was $156 million. The $1.5 billion total revenue was a windfall for the casinos. The biggest winner was Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, a casino on the Nebraska state line. This venue is one of the biggest in the state. Operated by Caesar’s Entertainment, the casino has 60,000 square feet of gambling space. There are 1,400 slot machine and 60 table games. This casino gave Iowa $37.50 million in gaming tax revenue last year.
Following close behind Horseshoe Casino was Ameristar Casino, the state’s only riverboat casino. Ameristar has nearly 40,000 square feet of gambling space. Its specialty is high-roller gambling, and the venue caters to high rollers. The casino has five gaming tables exclusively for high rollers, as well as 51 slot machines with high-limit slots.
With the addition of sports betting at its casino venues, Iowa is hoping its economic picture will continue to improve. This may be especially true because none of the neighboring states has managed to pass a sports gambling bill. Sportsbooks may attract citizens from neighboring states to Iowa to place sports bets on the upcoming big game. If all goes well, Iowa will continue to benefit from gambling in 2019.
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