State Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, speaks in 2015 at the grand opening of Wild Rose Casino in Jefferson. While Baltimore isn’t seeking re-election, he thinks the next Legislature will pass a bill allowing casinos in Iowa to offer sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court this week cleared the way.
State Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, speaks in 2015 at the grand opening of Wild Rose Casino in Jefferson. While Baltimore isn’t seeking re-election, he thinks the next Legislature will pass a bill allowing casinos in Iowa to offer sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court this week cleared the way.

May 17, 2018

The top legislative priority for Wild Rose Casino & Resort in Jefferson — and the regional organizations that support it as a catalyst for economic development — is broad-daylight clear, top casino officials say.

The goal: Secure state legislation to allow casinos in Iowa to manage sports betting — a major topic of discussion in Iowa as of Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court turned up aces for the casino industry with a ruling killing a decades-old ban in most of the nation on that form of wagering.

Wild Rose, like other casinos in Iowa, is already hard at work advocating for a plan that would allow for state-regulated sports betting with the existing gaming houses serving as hosts.

“Dorothy brought the broom home so let’s vote on it,” said Tom Timmons, Wild Rose president and chief operating officer, with a “Wizard of Oz” reference.

Long term, the wizardry of the internet and changing gaming habits among younger Iowans means casinos must adapt.

And that fact, Timmons said, is why sports betting is essential for rural casinos like the one in Jefferson.

“What it means to the more rural areas is it opens us up to a different clientele, if you will, that may not be coming now,” he said. “We can get those individuals to come to the casino, open up accounts, maybe even watch games at the casino, while they wager and watch their favorite teams play, whether it be football, basketball, what have you.”

Timmons supported a bill in the last legislative session (House File 2448) that would have allowed casinos to offer wagering on college and pro sports, and develop online tools connected to their brick-and-mortar facilities. Gamblers would have to come to casinos to set up such accounts, thereby keeping tax and nonprofit dollars flowing through the Iowa economy, under the plan discussed at the State Capitol — but not enacted before lawmakers left.

A legislator from Johnston, Republican state Rep. Jake Highfill, is on record as saying he will introduce a sports-betting bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“He and I spoke regularly about that,” said state Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone.

Baltimore said he is strongly supportive of casinos being able to offer sports betting in Iowa. He sees it as a way to bring such wagering out of the shadows into regulated, taxable activity that adds to economic development in Iowa.

“You bet — and pun intended,” Baltimore said.

Baltimore, who is not seeking re-election this November, said he thinks the next Legislature will pass a sports-gaming bill with the casinos at the center of the structure.

“I think it’s important to have the casinos included,” Baltimore said. “They’re used to this.”

In an email to The Jefferson Herald, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office indicated no intent for a special session on the matter.

“Given the Supreme Court’s opinion, the governor will explore options with the Legislature next year,” Reynolds said in a statement.

Timmons said he is concerned neighboring states will get the jump on sports betting.

“I would hope we could get it in as soon as possible,” Timmons said. “They’ve done things ahead of us before.”

One candidate for governor, Democrat Fred Hubbell, of Des Moines, expressed no moral objection to sports betting in an interview with the Herald.

Hubbell said he would consider sports-betting legislation as long as state revenue connected to it is used wisely to advance the state.

“If it’s meant to be a gimmick to solve a budget crisis in our state, that’s wrong; I would not be in favor of it,” Hubbell said. “But if we’re doing a good job on our budget so that the money that goes in there — and we have a good use for that money, because there is some money that is going to go to the state — I’m willing to consider expansion of that kind of activity because I understand how the charitable contributions of the organizations make a big impact in our state.”

On Monday, as word of the U.S. Supreme Court decision traveled, Timmons fielded calls from people in the gaming industry — and others who just wanted to know if they could bet on the NBA playoffs, now in some of their most intense weeks with the conference finals.

“Some people that have contacted me think we can start tomorrow,” Timmons said, adding he wished the Legislature would have passed a bill this year allowing casinos to move more quickly on their plans.

Baltimore, who served on the State Government subcommittee that dealt with gaming, said he dug into the weeds of how sports betting in Iowa would work.

Baltimore said a separate data- management company should be involved to determine statistical outcomes — an entity not tied to sports leagues or casinos. That way, if a gambler bets on basketball star LeBron James having triple-double in a game — at least 10 points, rebounds and assists — the data will come from an organization not involved in the bet, the Boone Republican said.

“Who determines whether he gets that 10th assist?” Baltimore said. “These are the things we need to think about.”

Baltimore, who wanted to see sports betting passed this year, said other legislators were hesitant to move on it until the Supreme Court ruled.

We were still somewhat shooting in the dark because we didn’t know what the Legislature was going to do,” Timmons said.