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Iowa gambling handle sees record $3.2B in FY2021, driven by casino pent-up demand



owa gamblers ended fiscal 2021 with a new record turnover, setting new all-time marks for betting on casinos, sports, and lottery games that combined topped $3.2 billion.

According to State Racing and Gaming Commission data posted last Friday, Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos reported adjusted gross revenue of nearly $1.58 billion via their slot machines and table games and a separate sports wagering handle of over $1.2 billion that netted them nearly $90 million in receipts for the 12-month period ending June 30.

Council Bluffs’ three casinos, Ameristar, Harrah’s, and Horseshoe, had a combined gross revenue of $404,281,270.

I think it was a lot of pent-up demand,” said Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, a trade group for the licensed casinos in Iowa. “It’s a positive sign that we’re closer to back to normal,” reports the Omaha World-Herald.

Favorable weather, availability of COVID-19 vaccinations and more discretionary money earmarked for entertainment as Iowa’s farm and the overall economy rebounded were all factors contributing to a turnaround from last year’s 20% revenue decline, he said.

Casinos took in about $141.5 million in June to post a yearly record that topped the previous high of nearly $1.47 billion in fiscal 2012 by more than $109.4 million. The fiscal 2021 figures represented a huge rebound for casinos, which saw revenue dip to $1.16 billion during a COVID-19 ravaged year in which the pandemic forced them to close for 11 weeks under the state’s public health disaster emergency.

“It was big numbers,” said Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the State Racing and Gaming Commission, who noted that many casino operators are still in the process of rehiring employees, renting venues, and providing amenities that were shuttered during the ongoing pandemic.

Ohorilko said many state-licensed casinos are doing “much better than they would have anticipated in terms of a recovery at this point in time,” and are cautiously optimistic about the future. Many used the pandemic to “reset” their marketing strategies to target promotions “to the seasoned gamblers instead of maybe casting a wide net” given the yearly trend toward reduced admissions.

Sports wagering, which saw its first full fiscal year since the activity was legalized in Iowa beginning in August 2019, generated nearly $111.2 million in bets last month to surpass the $1.2 billion mark for fiscal 2021. More than $985 million in wagers were placed using online apps after Iowa’s law changed on January 1 to allow betting over electronic devices without requiring players to first travel to a casino to set up an account in person.

“The year brought significant challenges to Iowa’s sportsbooks, which made the results all the more impressive,” said Jessica Welman, an analyst for the Network, which includes “The best news is that with the pandemic’s effects on the industry waning, and online registration firmly in place, the last year is only a glimpse of Iowa’s true potential.”

The increased betting action proved profitable for the state as well, with casinos paying $314.5 million in state taxes on gambling at their facilities and $6.07 million in state taxes on sports wagering proceeds.

State proceeds from lottery profits stood at $95 million on a record $417 million in sales through May, with the Iowa Lottery Authority expected to issue its 12-month financial data later this month, a revised total that will push overall gambling in Iowa for fiscal 2021 well above $3.2 billion.

The casino figures point to wagering by more serious rather than casual gamblers, with this year’s attendance of almost 16.4 million through the turnstiles down from 22.8 million during the previous fiscal 2012 record year. Also, the casinos’ latest per-capital “win” averaged $96 compared with $75 the previous year and $73 in fiscal 2019.

Welman said Iowa is “far from reaching its ceiling” as a sports-betting market with a lot of “untapped potential” with the overwhelming focus on online services and the aggressive marketing that is taking place.

“With a lighter sports schedule and few local betting events to spur interest, Iowa won’t see significant growth in betting again until the football season,” said Dustin Gouker, an analyst for the Network. “But there is no question that the Hawkeye State is in a good position, poised for a fall expansion when Iowa, Iowa State, and the NFL once again draw bettors to sportsbooks.”

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