Letter to the editor: Bets off, Iowa

Aaron Jacobs via Flickr

By Antonia Russo

“In a nation of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity.” —Hunter S. Thompson

Iowa casinos want the out-of-state billionaire carpetbaggers like DraftKings and FanDuel to serve as bookies for the casinos — handling their sports and fantasy games wagers. These online gambling companies are a direct threat to the casinos, and everyone knows it. They’re the market equivalent of Amazon. They’ll undercut tax rates, offer convenience and use massive targeted advertising — devastating casino, state and nonprofits’ revenue — just like Amazon with the brick and mortar retailers.

The uneasy alliance between casinos and online gambling is apparent in legislation battles nationwide. Dan Kehl, Iowa casino CEO, states in the New York Times in February, 2019: “We have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in our casinos. The question is, how far can we let the mobile go?”

Suddenly, Iowa casinos are embracing the online companies, allowing them to take over the gambling scene in Iowa. Why? What changed? Did they cut a deal guaranteeing the casinos a share of the online take? What are they not telling us?

Look at the tax structure in the bill — Iowa loses revenue to online gaming, the nonprofits are affected, the casinos lose revenue and patrons, while online fantasy sports are taxed at the same low rate as sports betting. There is no “off-shore” competition here as justification. The money goes out of state and the addiction rates are high. The legislature stands by letting this happen, while arguing to exclude collegiate sports in the looting.

Iowa legislators are giving away the store. We’ll end up subsidizing the casinos, just like Prairie Meadows horse track, to prop up the jobs and investments in a dead-end industry. And we’ll watch Iowa dollars fly out of state with the fantasy sports companies.

And while they’re at it, legislators should tell us how they plan to treat online gambling addiction. Controlling accessibility will be difficult because the 24/7 casino is on the gambler’s cell phone in his pocket. Voluntary exclusion assumes a degree of control not often present. He can go “off-shore” and continue. The 50-plus lobbyists for the gambling bill are calling the shots here. Legislative efforts to promote mental health programs become hypocrisy.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 262.