SportsPulse: DraftKings founder and CEO Jason Robins stopped by the USA TODAY Sports studios to talk about the future of gambling.
Lawmakers in Iowa have an incredibly difficult challenge ahead of them, but any policy that protects jobs, enhances state tax revenue and curbs the spread of COVID-19 must be part of the conversation.
While the economy is seriously struggling in general, COVID-19 has hit some industries much harder than others. Since Iowa casinos closed on March 17, revenue in the gaming industry has come to a complete halt, jeopardizing the jobs of over 17,000 Iowans. Iowa, which is second only to Nevada in casinos per capita, has felt the brunt of this shutdown even harder than most. Unfortunately, the effects are now manifesting themselves in a painful but easily foreseeable way with the mass layoffs of nearly 1,300 employees at Prairie Meadows. In addition to this job loss, the state itself lost over $25 million in gaming tax revenue in the month of April alone.
Even though casinos will be able to reopen their doors in a limited capacity relatively soon, the industry is not going to be anywhere near 100% for the foreseeable future. Many customers are sure to be deterred by health concerns and won’t be willing to risk their safety by entering a casino no matter how many new sanitation protocols are in place.
But they shouldn’t have to make this choice when there are clear alternatives to allow people to access sports betting or play the casino games they enjoy from the safety of their home. Like so many other industries are doing, it’s time for the gaming world to go digital.
First and foremost, Iowa lawmakers must allow people to register for sports betting accounts online. In 2019, the Iowa Legislature authorized online sports betting, but made it so that customers must first enter a casino in order to register. There was never any customer safety benefit to this requirement, which expires in January of 2021. But now that entering public spaces is potentially dangerous, this policy is more impractical than ever. Sports are starting to pick up again, and people are craving entertainment. The only logical thing to do to ensure safe access to sports betting is to immediately lift this needless and potentially harmful requirement and allow people to complete the registration process entirely online, something 10 other states have done.
Iowa officials must also consider iGaming — the digital version of slots, table games and poker. iGaming is already authorized in six states — Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia — and many more states will be considering it as we adapt to life in the COVID-19 era. Online games can provide a significant ancillary source of revenue for the struggling gaming industry and helps the state recoup vital tax revenue for essential services. In some European markets, iGaming revenue already outstrips land-based gaming revenue.
Lawmakers in Iowa have an incredibly difficult challenge ahead of them, but any policy that protects jobs, enhances state tax revenue and curbs the spread of COVID-19 must be part of the conversation. iGaming and online sports betting meet this criteria and are worthy of consideration.
Charles Gillespie is an American entrepreneur and recognized leader in online gaming. He contributes regularly to business, regional and industry media advocating for a legal, regulated online gaming and sports betting market.
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