Jake Highfill

Jake Highfill

A bid to legalize “fantasy sports” prizes in Iowa has been revived, but it’s unclear whether the plan can pass the Republican-led Iowa House. Representative Jake Highfill, a Republican from Johnston, has been working on this issue for four years.

“If you don’t like it, don’t do it,” Highfill said today. “I made an adult decision not to gamble.”

But Highfill said he’s just fine letting other adults make their own decision to gamble on fantasy sports. It is illegal for Iowans to claim prize money from fantasy sports contests in which competitors choose players from a variety of teams and “win” based on the way each of those individuals performs in a real college or professional game. Highfill wants to make it legal to claim those prizes — which can be millions of dollars — and have the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission police the fantasy sports companies that will be allowed to operate in Iowa.

“Fantasy sports have become our new national pasttime,” said Fantasy Sports Trade Association chairman Peter Schoenke of Madison, Wisconsin. “Over 50 million Americans participate in some form of fantasy sports.”

The bill, as proposed, would force fantasy sports companies operating in Iowa to pay taxes to the state, but representatives of the state-licensed casinos say the tax rate Highfill proposes is far less than what casinos pay.

“You’re talking about two of the major players in this market being from outside the state, that are going to be taxed at a different rate, said Frank Chiodo, a lobbyist for Elite Casino Resorts, which runs casinos in Davenport, Larchwood and Riverside.

Lobbyist Jeff Boeyink represents Wild Rose Entertainment which operates casinos in Clinton, Emmetsburg and Jefferson and he called the tax disparity “significant”.

“This clearly is a disadvantage for existing casinos,” Boeyink said.

Gambling opponents are also lined up against the plan. Amy Campbell is a lobbyist for the Iowa Behavoral Health Association and she said the professionals she represents see a “high correlation” between fantasy sports and gambling addiction.

“You hear a lot about gateway drugs,” Campbell said. “Fantasy sports, they feel, is kind of a gateway gambling where people do start in that area, move to sports gambling and other gambling outlets.”

Representatives for a variety of groups testified at a statehouse hearing on the issue today. Bill backers say they hope to make some adjustments and get a House committee to approve the plan soon.  The Iowa Senate voted last year to allow Iowans to claim fantasy sports competition prizes, but Highfill is proposing a different regularly approach than senators endorsed.