Iowa House Takes up Online Sports Gambling

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The Sioux City Journal reports that Iowans could legally play online poker against their neighbors and bet on sports events under a proposal by Iowa House members.

The plan, which may get a hearing in the House State Government Committee next week, may expand sports betting language approved by a Senate committee to include legalized betting on collegiate sports - except Iowa colleges, according to Rep. Brian Quirk, D-New Hampton, who is part of a seven- member bipartisan gambling working group.

Legalized sports betting would have to wait on changes in federal law and withstand opposition from State Government Committee Chairwoman Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, who has threatened to strip it out of any gaming bill that comes to the committee.

Whatever shape the final gambling package takes, Quirk expects opposition from anti-gambling groups. The time for debating whether Iowa is a gambling state is long past, he said.

"Look, either we're a gambling state or we're not, and with 17 casinos I'd say we're a gambling state," Quirk said.

But Rep. Jeff Kauffman, R-Wilton, who typically votes against gaming expansion, doesn't expect lawmakers who have been consistent "no" votes on gaming issues to change their position on this proposal.

"This is a working group to find 51 votes," he said, "and not everyone on the working group supports all the parts of this plan."

He expects that given the state budget problem there may be some hope lawmakers take a fresh look at gambling expansion.

"It's policy versus need and that's a juggling act every legislator here will have to deal with," Kauffman said.

With an estimated 80,000 Iowans already play online poker, Quirk said one of those juggling acts will be the legalization of account deposit wagering. Under the provision, Iowans could open an account at a casino, perhaps with a $50 limit, receive a password and play poker from their home computers as long as they had money in their accounts. They would have to return to the casino to put more money into their accounts and to collect winnings.

Other changes include allowing major poker tournaments at existing casinos and a code change to allow casinos to profit from out-of-state pari-mutuel betting on races run at Iowa dog and horse tracks. Now, when people outside of Iowa bet on those races, the Iowa tracks get a small fee, but Iowa law prevents them from cashing those checks, Quirk said. He estimated the casinos are losing $200,000 to $1million a year.

His bill also would remove a requirement that communities where casinos are located approve a gambling referendum every eight years. Quirk's plan calls for voter approval before a casino is built and then just once again, again eight years later. No further referendums would be necessary.



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