Iowa Sports Betting Handle Plummets Due To COVID-19 Pandemic

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With precious little sports betting available in Iowa due to COVID-19, the month of April looked as bleak as expected, with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission reporting an overall handle of barely more than $1.5 million.

That was a staggering falloff of nearly 92% from March’s handle of slightly less than $19.6 million, which included Iowa’s 18 casinos that accepted wagers on sporting events being open until March 17, before being closed due to the global pandemic. Though Iowa began to reopen some businesses May 1, the 19 casinos across the state will remain closed until at least May 15 as part of Governor Kim Reynolds’ recent Public Health Emergency Declaration.

There was a 9.6% hold on what bets were made, creating revenue of $150,331 and tax revenue of $9,520. For the fiscal year, the Hawkeye State is just shy of $350 million in cumulative handle and has generated more than $1.7 million in tax revenues.

Impact of in-person registration felt with mobile handle

When Iowa enacted sports betting, it included a provision requiring in-person registration at a retail sportsbook in order to gain access to mobile and online sports betting. While that provision sunsets at the end of the calendar year, studies have shown it to be a potential barrier to expanding successful mobile betting, and that may be proving itself coupled with the lack of betting options.

The IRGC did add the Nippon Professional Baseball League and two Russian table tennis leagues after closing its casinos, but those did little to attract bettors in the Hawkeye State. While there is no breakdown by sport, Iowa’s mobile handle of $1.57 million across the 13 sportsbooks where those bets can be placed was 88% lower than its March figure of $13.3 million.

The mobile hold was just under 10%, and the overall hold slipped under double digits as retail sportsbooks paid out $6,500 while not taking any bets. By comparison, Indiana — which has remote registration and six mobile and online sportsbooks operating — generated a handle of $26.3 million according to numbers released by the state’s gaming commission Monday.

There is a chance for better numbers in May due to the UFC 249 fight card held May 9 and Korean baseball that began earlier this month. Iowa has yet to reach a decision on offering eSports betting, with the subject brought up at its previous regulatory meeting on April 16.

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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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