Which Forms of Gambling Are Legal in the State of Iowa?
Iowans have a lot of opportunities to gamble, as long as they stay within the somewhat strict guidelines of their State laws. Step outside of those guidelines in Iowa, and the penalties are potentially very severe – especially if large sums of money are involved. Alongside riverboat, land-based and tribal casinos, you can enjoy horse racing, lottery betting and charity gambling in Iowa. This page explains the Iowa gambling laws in detail.
First of all below you will find a brief history of gambling in Iowa, including all the major rules which control today’s gaming environment. After that a game-by-game overview of what you can and can‘t play in this State. After that I have delved deeper into the legislation with excerpts and a legal timeline – then a summary and quick look into the future can be seen at the end of this page.
One thing that stands out in this State is that the licensing of casinos in each county has been very democratic. In 1991, laws were passed which allowed individual counties to vote on whether to have casinos on their land. Over the next 2 decades there have been 18 such casinos licensed – alongside lavish casinos on tribal land, and riverboat casinos, which are a throwback to the days of pioneers.
Social poker games (home-games) are allowed in Iowa, though the provisions are strictly aimed at penny-games. The $50 maximum profit rule could probably do with adjusting for inflation, though busts at the smaller end of the scale are very rare. So long as nobody is profiting from hosting the game, and the stakes are reasonably small, then this should not be a legal issue.
Racing is also big business in Iowa. There are 3 racetracks, each of which has a large number of slots and also casino table games. Pari-mutuel wagering started in 1983, with betting on races from other States (via Simulcasts) added in 1989.
Instead of disappearing into the State coffers, a lot of good causes and philanthropy comes from the profits that the casinos and racetrack generates. Public works and education are among the beneficiaries of this. Iowa also has a long standing lottery, which began in 1985 and was later extended to include the inter-State games like PowerBall.
This State have been highlighted as one of 10 who are most likely to follow the lead of Delaware, Nevada and new Jersey and legislate for online gambling. Bills in 2012 and 2013 have failed, and Tribal interests have already flexed their muscles to ensure that they are included in the negotiations. It is unclear whether any legislation will be tabled in 2014 as the director of the Iowa Gaming Association has said that 2015 is a more likely target based on the success of the early adopter States.
Casino Games: Yes, there are licensed casinos including riverboat casinos and also venues on Tribal lands – plus casino games at the licensed racetracks. This is big business in Iowa and residents of this State have a great choice of venues and games to play.
Online Casinos: No, nothing specifically mentions the internet in the legislation, however the wide range scope of the law (which targets ‘wagering’ as the main offense) leads to the assumption that internet gambling is included.
Live Poker: Yes, there are plenty of live poker games available at tribal, State and race-track casinos including tournaments and cash games. Social poker is allowed, however the provisions for this are very complex and focus on keeping these as ‘penny ante’ type games. If nobody is making a profit for running the games and the stakes are small, this should not be a problem.
Online Poker: No, Iowa looks like a potential candidate for this, with the progressive gambling laws indicating that new ideas are embraced. One attempt has already been made, falling at the first hurdle of the legislative process.
Sports Betting: Yes, pari-mutuel betting allowed, either at racetracks or designated places where inter-State simulcast betting is allowed.
Lottery Betting: Yes, there is a popular lottery in Iowa, and inter-State lottery games including the PowerBall can be enjoyed.
Bingo Games: Yes, charity bingo and raffle type games are accommodated. These need to be individually licensed.
The main Iowan laws leave very little room for arguing that different forms of gambling are not included. The offense under the law in this State is the wager itself, regardless of the game or what is being bet. Here is the key excerpt:
Note that 99B refers to Pari-Mutuel betting regulation and 99D to charitable and social gaming. This is a very broad definition by the standards of other States, if you participate in a game that is not deliberately legalized – your wager is a crime.
This same chapter of the State laws goes on to outline different classes of offense depending on the amount wagered and the number of times an individual has been caught gambling illegally. These range from a serious misdemeanor (first offense, < $100 involved) through to a Class C Felony, 3rd offense, more than $5,000 involved.
Laws covering social games are also very complex when it comes to the amount wagered. $50 is the cut off point for both social (home game) gambling and most charitable activity in Iowa. Busts are very rare for small games, though they are not completely unknown.
Below is a legal time-line for the major gambling legislation in Iowa:
1983: Pari-mutuel betting on greyhound and horse racing is legal, these provisions were extended in 1989 to include Simulcast (inter-State) gambling and to allow referendums on the introduction of Riverboat gambling.
1985: Iowa Lottery begins, later this would include the PowerBall (1992) and Mega Millions (2009) games.
1991: The first two riverboat casinos open their doors for business, two more were added in 1994.
2012: A bill to regulate online poker makes it through the Senate, but does not make it to the floor of the House after missing a deadline for introduction in a legislative log-jam.
2013: A different bill also looking to legislate online poker does make it to committee, but is killed off. This was introduced by Jeff Danielson, and speculation is that the lobbying efforts of powerful tribal casino owners were behind its demise.
2014: President of the Iowa gaming commission, Wes Ehrecke, rules out the issues of regulating online gambling during 2014 in an interview with Casino Enterprise Management – though did not rule out working towards looking at this in 2015.
As long as you stay within the boundaries set out by the State legislation, there are a lot of opportunities for gamblers in Iowa. If you do step outside the law, you can expect the punishments to be severe. With casinos (some with poker rooms) and racetracks competing for your business, there are some great venues and entertainment to be enjoyed in this State.
Wes Ehrecke has ruled out legislation for 2014 concerning online gambling. It also looks like a deal needs to be worked out with tribal interests before any fresh acts can be tabled. Once this is worked out the progressive history of gambling in Iowa does make this a great candidate to join a future wave of internet gambling friendly States.
Charity Gambling Rules
2012 Bill Killed Off News
Gambling Law US Summary of Statutes
Racing and Gaming Commission