April 12, 2018

Wild Rose Jefferson posted a record month, week and day in March, casino President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Timmons reported at the Grow Greene County Gaming Corp. awards banquet last week.

The success of the casino served as a catalyst for the game-changing referendum for the Greene County Community School District — which also occurred last Tuesday.

But the current favorable waters for Wild Rose don’t ensure that only gentle winds loom for Iowa gaming.

Like other businesses, casinos have to adapt to generational customer changes.

Wild Rose pulls in the vast majority of its profits from slot machines; the monthly reports the casino files with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission show that clearly.

As of now, the slots, and the traditional table gaming and concerts that help draw customers, remain very much in demand.

But younger gamers have different demands, expectations, and Wild Rose, as well as the other 18 state-regulated casinos in Iowa, are looking for ways to serve them, to extend the community success dozens of us witnessed firsthand last Tuesday as the nonprofit associated with Wild Rose distributed $1.2 million in donations to what can broadly and fairly be termed good causes in a seven-county sweep of western and central Iowa.

Enter House File 2448.

It could be the biggest number you’ve seen related to our casino in Jefferson — and that’s saying something, because casinos are all about numbers, after all.

That bill, now before the Iowa Legislature, would allow Iowa casinos to offer sports betting on college and professional games should the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of the State of New Jersey as it seeks a repeal of laws that give exclusive rights for such gaming to the State of Nevada.

Anticipating a decision, 18 states are considering sports-betting legislation, including neighboring Missouri and Illinois.

The Iowa plan is to open up sports betting only in casinos for purposes of regulation, taxation and targeted economic development — the three reasons we have casinos in Iowa.

“I just know there are a lot of people who are obviously doing it now,” Timmons said. “This will give us an opportunity to come in and set up accounts with our casinos, and then it gives them the opportunity to use their mobile devices. The key is they have to come to the casino to set up the account the way the legislation is written.”

The casino is constructed to accommodate televisions with sports, and access to wagering.

It makes sense to keep dollars that are being wagered illegally with local bookies (yes, they still exist) or through online platforms that scoop money from Iowans for collection at off-shore gaming ventures.

There is, as with all issues that emerge in Iowa these days, a rural-urban element to the debate. Some advocates of recruiting NCAA tournaments to Des Moines fear that if Iowa has legal sports gaming, they’ll lose opportunities to fill restaurants and hotels in our capital city.

But with so many other states considering legalized sports betting, the NCAA will be hard-pressed to eliminate half or more of the United States from consideration for regional, or Final Four hoops action.

And to be blunt, if we lose it in Des Moines, we lose it.

There is the obvious question of the calendar. Does it make sense to set policy based on the potential to land a handful of college basketball games two or three times a decade for the near-exclusive economic benefit of Des Moines? Or is it more bottom-line-oriented, and beneficial to the full state, as casinos are spread across Iowa, to allow for sports betting every day of the year?

Let’s be clear-eyed on our local interest in the sports-betting debate.

Jefferson and the surrounding region would see a boost.

The matter could gain steam during the final weeks of the legislative session, so we urge you to make the case to your legislators today. Pass the sports gaming bill. Position Wild Rose for future generations.

One final image: Imagine all the people from Carroll who would stop at Wild Rose on Saturdays in the fall to place bets on their way to Iowa State games.

Then do the nonprofit math.

Wild Rose distributes 5 percent of its adjusted gross gaming revenues annually to public-minded causes and projects.

We can spend the proceeds for sports betting here in Iowa, or we can continue to watch as computer servers housed on a Caribbean island or in some obscure country like Macedonia grab the wagered cash.

Drinks for other people on exotic beaches, or better schools and parks for our kids in rural Iowa?