COVID-19 Results In Low March Handle For Iowa Sportsbooks


As expected, the effects of COVID-19 contributed greatly to a sharp falloff in Iowa’s sportsbook handle at its 18 casinos as the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission reported a handle of nearly $19.6 million for March.

It was a 65.6% drop compared to February’s handle of $56.9 million. Five of Iowa’s sportsbooks — including the largest handle generator Prairie Meadows — closed March 16, and the remaining ones were shuttered the following day when Gov. Kim Reynolds declared a public health state of emergency to help combat the nationwide pandemic.

The pandemic resulted in a canceling of the NCAA Tournament, which would have undoubtedly brought a big bump in sports betting given that it would have been offered for the first time in the Hawkeye State since sports betting became available. There would have been local interest since the state’s flagship school — the University of Iowa — was all but certain to be in the 68-team field while Northern Iowa had an outside chance of being included.

The IRGC reported a hold of 5.98%, resulting in revenues of just over $1.1 million and generating $79,171 in tax revenues. The March hold was far better than February, when the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory contributed to a meager hold of 1.33%. The full month of offerings in February, though, did result in nearly $100,000 in tax revenue.

The only handle the IRGC reported lower since sports betting became available in the Hawkeye State was the $8.57 million in August when the sportsbooks initially opened, and that was without a full month of betting available. The March handle was also 66.9% off Iowa’s record handle of $59.3 million reported in November.

Bettors post another retail win, but books recoup via internet

For the second straight month, bettors beat the retail sportsbooks, though it was at a much lower level compared to February. Bettors took home $6.32 million in payouts compared to $6.25 million in wagers placed. That negative hold of -1.12% was an improvement for the sportsbooks compared to -3.21% in February, though Harrah’s in Council Bluffs took a beating with a -18.31% hold on a handle of nearly $303,000, as they paid out over $358,000.

The percentage of Iowa’s internet handle reached a record 68.02%, accounting for $13.3 million as offerings were reduced to next to nothing with sports in the United States ground to a halt. This was also where the sportsbooks turned the tables on bettors, posting a hold of 9.32% to generate $1.24 million in revenue. Wild Rose Casino in Clinton was the pacesetter with a hold of 18.03%, while Prairie Meadows again generated the largest internet betting handle at just under $6.2 million.

William Hill remained the dominant internet sportsbook, accounting for $9.04 million of the state’s handle through its four casinos — including Prairie Meadows — but its 67.92% share continued a downward trend as it vies with five other sportsbooks for mobile offerings through nine other casinos.

Iowa requires in-person registration for mobile betting, though that provision is scheduled to sunset at the end of the year.

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Chris Altruda

Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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