A bill eligible for debate this week in the Iowa Senate would legalize wagering on Esports. Betting on video game competitions among multiple players is legal today in Nevada and New Jersey.
During a Senate subcommittee hearing on the bill, Susan Daeman, a lobbyist for the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, said Esports is “hugely popular so it’s already happening out there and they’re already betting on it, so I view this kind of like sports wagering. This allows the state to regulate it, so we make sure that people who are of ages that shouldn’t be doing it are not going it.”
Critics like Daniel Summe of The Family Leader say it’s a “dangerous” expansion of gambling, particularly for younger Iowans.
“I think is going to result in a lot of ads,” Summe said. “Even though minors still can’t gamble here, they’re going to be targeted with a lot of advertisements. Also, as an industry, video game gambling is just not in the same place as traditional sports.”
Summe cited a federal investigation over allegations of bribes and match fixing by some professional Esports players. Bill backers say state regulators would only allow betting on professional and sanctioned Esports leagues and it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to gamble in Iowa.
Kathryn Kueter, the legislative liasion for Concerned Women for America of Iowa, asked legislators to “take a hard look” at the bill.
“This bill is bringing the world of gambling into the living rooms of Iowans and though, perhaps not the intent, it is giving children a front row seat to the enticement of gambling,” Kueter said.
Christopher Rants, a lobbyist for DraftKings and Fan Duel, said the industry originally thought betting on Esports had been legalized in 2019 when Iowa lawmakers made it legal to wager on sporting events.
“It’s a legitimate market and it can be a regulated market,” Rants said of Esports. “Again, it’s the kind of thing that we thought we were authorizing the first time through, so we would ask the legislature to finish the job and authorize it for those people who are of age.”
Another section of the bill would get rid of required criminal background checks for casino employees who are not directly engaged in conducting or overseeing the gambling operation. Iowa Gaming Association president and CEO Wes Ehrecke said casinos are competing with other businesses in the hospitality industry who don’t require background checks for new employees.
“We’re saying for those type of positions, especially in this tight labor market and trying to compete for like the dishwasher, the housekeeper, a variety of those positions that have nothing to do with the gaming, but to be able to not to be required to have a background check because the hotel right across the street or the restaurant or a variety of other entertainment (venues) do not require that same background check on them,” Ehrecke said.
Dave Joseph of the Iowa Department of Public Safety said doing away with background investigations for lower level staff in the casinos raises concerns. He said every year people with active warrants and multiple felonies lie about their criminal histories on job applications just to get inside the casino.
“While those individuals are not directly related to gaming — they’re not dealers or working in the cage or anything like that, they do still have access to the facility,” he said. “They are able to observe the money routes when they’re doing their money drops, they’re able to look at the camera locations, evaluate security status.”
The bill passed the House three weeks ago on a 71-28 vote. A key senator is proposing tightening up a section of the bill that would let customers use an app on their smart phones to access a bank account, for cashless wagering.