Poker is in danger in Iowa. Could online gambling save him?

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After capitalizing on the Internet poker boom of the early 2000s, Iowa casinos have abandoned many of their poker tables over the past decade.

(Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

The gambling industry in Iowa is essentially a protectionist mob. The laws are carefully crafted to protect existing casinos from market competition – or as they call it, “cannibalization”.

This is one of the main reasons the industry is slow to adopt internet gaming. Policy makers and lobbyists weigh new betting methods against the potential impact on traditional casinos.

But they could be on the verge of an epiphany. Gambling revenues have been booming since the state legalized sports betting and provided an online component in 2019. Perhaps the new options aren’t so cannibalistic after all.

“What I hear from a number of operators is that they are really two different types of customers. … And so at this point, there isn’t much of an impact, ”Brian Ohorilko, director of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, said on “Iowa Press” from Iowa PBS Last week.

Given the success of sports betting, Iowa officials should look for other ways to expand legal gambling on the internet. The next sensible step would be online poker, which already has a large illicit market and a burgeoning legal market in a handful of other states.

The last time state lawmakers were serious considered legalizing online poker, gambling was at its peak in Iowa.

At the height of fiscal 2011, 16 of 18 licensed Iowa casinos had poker tables for a total of 112 statewide, according to income reports of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. Today, there are only 47 legal poker tables in Iowa, spread over just five casinos. The pandemic is a factor, but poker rooms in Iowa were downsizing and closing before COVID-19 arrived.

However popular poker is, it is largely due to online gambling – the poker boom of the early 2000s was made possible by the Internet. Fans playing at home started winning places in in-person tournaments via online satellites and winning huge prizes at professional events.

The number of statewide poker tables dropped to 11 in 2003, which happens to be the same year the hitherto unknown Chris Moneymaker won the televised World Series of Poker Main Event after playing for Las Vegas. a $ 39 online tournament. The popularity of poker increased and the number of poker tables at Iowa casinos increased fivefold over the next five years.

A Casinos Omnibus Act 2004 Passed by the Iowa legislature, which allowed racetracks to offer table games, also helped increase poker games and casino revenues.

Congress in 2006 adopted law intended to ban most gambling on the Internet. The bill was introduced by former Iowa Republican Representative Jim Leach. This and subsequent enforcement action forced most reputable poker sites to shut down their operations in the United States, although illegal services are still available.

Since then, court rulings have paved the way for states to legalize internet poker. So far, six states have passed laws to allow and regulate it.

This effort is at an “embryonic stage,” Wes Ehrecke, President of Iowa Gaming Association said on “Iowa Press”. He said he didn’t expect lawmakers to take it back in 2022 and that if they did, the casino lobby would be neutral.

Lawmakers would undoubtedly give casinos a stake in online poker, as they did with sports betting. It might be cronyism, but it’s better than banning internet poker.

Far from cannibalizing casino gambling halls, internet poker may be the only thing that can save them.

(319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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