As sports betting continues to roll out across the US, in states such as Iowa questions are being raised regarding numerous issues, regarding both the positive economic impact of the industry but also relating to social responsibility and sports integrity.

In a recent webinar hosted by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, moderator Karl Cassell spoke to three local experts on the subject of sports betting and gaming in the State of Iowa.

Taking the matter from the perspective of the regulatory authorities, Wes Ehrecke, President & CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association, noted the industry’s potential for generating tourism, creating employment opportunities and generally contributing to the state’s economic development.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Iowan gambling sector employed over 8,000 people, contributed to retirement communities, and had a charitable component contributing around $90 million in every state county to nonprofit organisations.

Additionally, the industry generated tax revenues of over $320 million per year, prompting Ehrecke to point out that the market’s overall financial contribution to the state of Iowa, both directly and indirectly, reached nearly £1 billion annually.

“We hope to get back to that again, and I believe that’s a real positive for the state. It’s being done with a high level of integrity and with lots of regulation to that.”

Building on Ehrecke’s comments, Eric Preuss, Your Life Project Director at the Iowa Department of Public Health, stressed the need for responsible gambling initiatives as the state’s betting industry continues to grow, and highlighted the department’s ‘1-800 Bets Off’ help service.

He began: “Strictly from a public health perspective, from the Integrator Provider Network, which provides the problem gambling treatment and prevention services across the state of Iowa in every single county, we aim to continue to raise the bar and the level of awareness.

“If someone is experiencing problems with gambling, it’s not a moral issue, it’s not a weakness issue – it’s an addiction,” he continued, making comparisons between gambling addiction and drug dependency.

“A lot of these people suffer in silence, and it’s hidden. People can hide their financial problems that they might have until it gets to the point where they’re draining their retirement accounts.”

Ehrecke also noted: “We have to do this in a responsible manner, and make sure that keeping that percentage of people that are prone to compulsive behaviour, whether it’s gambling or alcohol credit cards, whatever it is that they need to seek help.” 

“Fortunately we have great providers within Eric’s group that are there to really try to help people and assess people that need that.” 

“We like to think a well over 95% of the people can go to a casino and entertainments intended to be, and we believe that trend will continue as, even with the adding of new entertainment amenities like sports wagering the things will – there’s always going to be someone that would enjoy that kind of experience that entertainment experience with their friends.”

Lastly, Todd Dorman, a columnist with iowan media outlet The Gazette, touched on the issue of corruption and betting integrity, noting that the regulated market provides a much more robust bulwark against illicit activities than the unlicenced one.

“I think anywhere you have lots of money you’ve got the possibility of some sort of corruption or scandal,” he stated. 

“One good thing that Iowa did was that the final bill prohibited Iowans from doing in-game bets on Iowa and Iowa State and the state teams on things like ‘who is going to make the first free throw’, and those kinds of things which are the kinds of things that you might, make an athlete to change what they’re doing for betting.

“There’s always going to be the possibility, but with the technology now it’s tougher to do that than it was when you were paying the local bookie and no one knew about it.”

Source – Inter-Religious Council of Linn County

Gambling in Iowa: Balancing economic growth with responsible gaming