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Iowa Sports Betting: Online Registration & Mobile Betting Now Live as of Jan. 1, 2021

Iowa Sports Betting: Online Registration & Mobile Betting Now Live as of Jan. 1, 2021 article feature image

Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

  • Sports betting in Iowa began way back in August 2019, but there was one major stipulation: New users had to sign up in person at a casino or sportsbook.
  • As of January 1, 2021, that rule no longer applies in the Hawkeye State, allowing anyone within state lines to register, deposit and bet from their homes or anywhere with internet access.
  • It's a welcome change in the world of COVID-19 and will make accessibility to legal, safe sports betting incredibly easy for Iowans.

Iowa sports betting will start the new year with an easier online registration process and a brand-new sportsbook.

Eligible Iowa residents and visitors age 21 and up can sign up for any legal sportsbook from a mobile device beginning Jan. 1 if they are physically within state lines. Iowa sports bettors previously had to complete registration in person at a licensed casino before placing a bet.

Additionally, Rush Street Interactive announced Wednesday its BetRivers online sportsbook would launch in conjunction with the new remote sign-ups. The Chicago-based gaming company is already a market leader in its home state of Illinois and will give Iowa bettors a chance to wager on their mobile app before Iowa State plays Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl Jan. 2.

888 announced earlier this month it would launch in Iowa, another of a group of top sportsbooks set to enter the market. There are already 17 retail casinos with at least one live online partner and Iowa law allows each of its 19 commercial casinos to have two online licenses or “skins.”

Leading national brands such as DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, William Hill, Hard Rock and Unibet already accept online players, as do smaller operators such as Q Sportsbook and Elite Sportsbook. Beginning Friday, all these brands – and more – will be able to take players without them having to travel first to their respective retail casino partners.

Background on In-Person Registration

Iowa was one of the first states to pass a sports betting bill after the Supreme Court struck down the federal wagering ban in May 2018, allowing individual states to legally accept single-game wagers on sporting events. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed her state’s sports betting bill a year later, and Iowa retail and online sportsbooks were live by end of 2019.

The 2019 law required all online registrants to complete their signups physically within the retail partner casino until Jan 1, 2021. Mirroring Nevada, for decades the only state with legal betting and the first to accept a wager online, the requirement was intended to increase in-person foot traffic and ostensibly designed to get online sports bettors to patronize the casinos’ games and amenities.

The in-person registration for online sportsbooks isn’t as big a hassle in Nevada but it is a major headache virtually anywhere else.

Almost all Iowa casinos are located either along the Missouri River that makes up the state’s western border or the Mississippi River that does the same to its east. This means signing up for the William Hill sportsbook at Harrah’s Council Bluffs may not be difficult for someone in the state’s southwestern corner, but it would take someone that same person five hours to drive across the state to register for the FanDuel sportsbook at the Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque.

Though most Iowa residents, or those in larger bordering cities such as Omaha, Nebraska and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, are within a reasonable drive of at least one retail sportsbook, it would realistically take days to sign up for them all. For nearly all bettors in the region, this cuts off many top sportsbook brands, hurting the market’s potential overall.

Even in states with legal betting, more money is wagered through offshore sites or illegal bookmakers than through legal avenues. Without full, easy and remote access to all top brands, the percentage of illegal money wagered only grows.

Potential Implications in Iowa and Nationwide

Fortunately, for both bettors and sportsbook operators, all eligible bettors physically within Iowa will be able to access their product remotely by the end of the week.

Despite the in-person registration requirement and its relatively sparse population, Iowa will finish among the top-10 most lucrative sports betting markets in the U.S. for calendar year 2020. The state accepted its single-month record of $87 million in handle in November 2020, part of more than $470 million in total handle generated year to date.

That figure should only grow with new market entrants and remote registration in 2021.

Dec. 31, 2020, could also be the last day any state outside Nevada requires in-person registration for an online sportsbook. Illinois is the only other state with such a law on the books, but Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a series of month-by-month executive orders allowing remote registration. Seeing neighboring Iowa drop its requirement – and the likely revenue increase that will come with it – could be one of a number of factors that make Illinois’ temporary remote registration access permanent.

That’s in addition to the previous and future threats from the COVID-19 pandemic which already shut down every commercial casino in America earlier this year and continues to threaten them going forward. Illinois along with Pennsylvania, Michigan and a growing list of states in the Midwest and across the country have already shut down casinos again this winter. An in-person registration requirement for online betting could, in practice, stop new customers from being able to place a legal sports bet at all.

With those dynamics in place, it seems the dozen or so states set to take up legal sports betting bills in 2021 have more incentive than ever to allow remote registration. While Iowa followed the early lead of Nevada for its sports betting legislation, it would behoove the next wave of states to follow Iowa’s shift to remote registration.

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