DES MOINES — Iowa is free to legalize sports gambling, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling delivered Monday.
Some proponents are lamenting a missed opportunity to have legal sports gambling in Iowa already on the fast track.
The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way Monday for states to legalize sports betting in a defeat for the major American sports leagues, endorsing New Jersey’s bid to allow such wagering and striking down a 1992 federal law that prohibited it in most places.
Iowa was among 18 states that introduced legislation to allow sport gambling if the court ruled this way, and one key state lawmaker said there was sufficient support for the bill to pass. But the Iowa Legislature adjourned earlier this month without adopting it, so sports wagering will remain illegal in the state — at least for now.
“The story today is that Iowa is behind the 8-ball, and that is not a good position to be in relative to this market,” said Jeff Danielson, a Democratic state senator from Waterloo and a supporter of sports betting and fantasy sports betting. Danielson was among those who urged the Iowa Legislature and governor to approve legislation during the recently concluded 2018 session so Iowa was prepared for Monday’s expected court outcome.
Instead, the earliest Iowa could legalize sports betting is during next year’s legislative session, which will begin in January. Danielson said even with broad, bipartisan support a bill would be unlikely to pass until later in the session.
That means in all likelihood Iowans will not be able to legally gamble on sports until, at the earliest, after some of the sports calendar’s biggest annual betting events: the 2018 NFL season and 2019 Super Bowl, and 2019 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“We’re excited to see the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as we expected them to do,” said Wes Ehrecke, a representative of the Iowa Gaming Association, which represents 19 state-licensed casinos that likely would become the hub of sports betting once Iowa adds it to its menu of legal gambling opportunities. “The timing would have been great to have had this done four weeks ago.”
Jake Highfill, a Republican state legislator from Johnston who oversaw the sports gambling bill during the 2018 session, said he was confident he had bipartisan support to pass the measure and he expects to push the issue early when the Legislature next convenes in January.
“It’s about time. Let’s get this done. It’s been a stupid law for a very long time, and I’m ready to get this thing moving,” Highfill said.
Danielson was less optimistic about the legislative prospects, saying he did not see evidence of broad, bipartisan support for the proposal, and that many legislators remain opposed based on moral grounds.
“Pardon the pun, but we face long odds,” Danielson said. “I think people are allergic to evidence on this issue.”
Danielson said he remains a supporter, however, and will continue his work in 2019 to pass legislation to legalize sports gambling.
The Supreme Court’s inaction before Monday prevented many state legislators from supporting the bill this session, multiple sources said.
“I don’t think legislators wanted to go home and explain a vote to expand gambling when they didn’t even know if they could do it,” said Keith Miller, a professor in Drake University’s law school and an expert on gaming. “So now that’s out of the way.”
Iowans also will go to the polls in the meantime to decide 100 House races and 25 Senate races this November, which could make the issue a lower-tier campaign issue and subject to new legislators in key committee or leadership positions depending on the outcome of November’s general election.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, upheld the legality of a 2014 state law permitting sports betting at New Jersey casinos and horse racetracks and voided the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Some states see sports betting, like lotteries, as a potentially important source of tax revenue.
The ruling takes the United States a step closer to legal sports betting in numerous states, perhaps nationwide, rather than just in select places such as Nevada, home to the gambling capital Las Vegas. The current illegal sports betting market is worth billions of dollars annually.
The proposed legislation in Iowa would have placed sports betting under the direction of the state’s casinos, and the activity would be regulated by the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in downtown Sioux City, the Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort near Larchwood and the Wild Rose Casino & Resort near Emmetsburg are the three casinos in Northwest Iowa where sports betting could emerge under that scenario.
Bettors would be allowed to wager on professional and college athletics. Properties that wish to host sports betting would be required to pay a $25,000 license fee, and a tax of 9 percent on sports betting revenue would be applied. The proposed legislation also would legalize mobile sports betting.
Miller said the rate of taxing sports gambling revenue and demands from professional sports leagues could remain hurdles for any Iowa legislation. Some lawmakers may want to tax sports gambling revenues at the same rate as casino revenues. Miller said that’s not feasible because sports gambling is not a huge moneymaker for casinos, in part because of the uncontrolled nature of the gambling. Slot machines and table games, for example, pay out over the long term at a mathematically consistent rate. But unexpected events and other uncontrollable factors make sports gambling more volatile.
And the professional sports leagues have sought a portion of the revenues and what they call an “integrity fee.”
Highfill adamantly opposed both measures.
“The leagues are going to be very creative in trying to get a piece of the money,” Miller said. “Rep. Highfill has been really emphatic in his view; it will be interesting to see if he can maintain that.”
Experts say legalized sports gambling likely would add foot traffic to Iowa casinos, including the potential for many people who do not currently visit and gamble in them.
Iowans would spend roughly $80 million to $90 million on sports wagering if it is legalized, according to estimates in an Innovation Group survey. While that is a significant amount of money, it would represent a relatively small drop in the state’s annual $7 billion-plus budget.
Danielson and Highfill said legalizing sports gambling would bring current bettors out of the shadows. Americans illegally wager $150 billion on U.S. sports annually. Of the $4.7 billion wagered on the 2017 Super Bowl, for example, 97 percent was illegal, according to estimates from the American Gaming Association.
Tom Coates, an official with Consumer Credit of Des Moines who has been a leading gambling opponent in Iowa, said he expects a major push to legalize sports and fantasy sports betting in Iowa as part of an effort by the gambling industry to move into the online competitive interactive gaming market full tilt.
“I’m kind of half surprised that they didn’t pass it like some other states did to get themselves geared up and ready,” said Coates. “The casinos are pushing hard for it and so I’m sure that their army of lobbyists and money will fully on display this next legislative season.”
Coates said casinos face “discouraging” demographics with an aging player base mostly wagering on slot machines at brick-and-mortar locations and they are hungry to tap into a market of younger players who start out registering to place sports bets at the casinos with the path headed toward online betting via computers, phones and other electronic devices.
“They’ve been looking for some way to reach out and grab the younger people. Sports betting will start but I don’t think it will end there,” he said.
SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- Six years ago, Emma Rasmussen didn't want to listen to the teasing from other kids anymore.
Deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, Rasmussen, then a sixth-grader, stopped wearing her hearing aid. At age 12, she was willing to have a more difficult time hearing if it meant that her classmates would stop making fun of her.
"I was confused a lot. It was just so emotional, sad, mad, all those emotions all in one," Rasmussen said.
Little did she know that before she turned 13, doctors would deliver to her and her parents a diagnosis no one ever wants to hear. Days before finishing sixth grade, Rasmussen went to the family doctor because of a cold. The doctor found a lump in her throat.
Three days into summer vacation, doctors removed half of a golf-ball-sized tumor from her throat. Tests on the tumor revealed thyroid cancer, and Rasmussen suddenly wasn't worried about her hearing aid.
"It made me realize how life truly is. None of us know how much time we have," she said. "I wasn't much thinking about if I was going to die. It was scary at first, but I changed my expectation. I had my faith and family to support me."
With that support, the 18-year-old daughter of Clint and Jennifer Rasmussen, of Dakota City, persevered, and she'll graduate Sunday with her South Sioux City High School classmates.
High school can present enough challenges even when you're not hard of hearing or dealing with cancer. Rasmussen must eat a gluten-free diet, and doctors frequently adjust her medication. She's missed many days of school when her body just doesn't have the energy. Through it all, Rasmussen remained optimistic.
"I just kept my head up, and I fought through it and I still do," she said. "I just put one foot in front of the other, just one day at a time."
Days after her cancer diagnosis, doctors removed the other half of Rasmussen's tumor. She endured a 30-day iodine diet that limited what she could eat. That was followed by radiation treatments.
She missed attending an annual summer camp for deaf children. For a time, she was basically isolated in her bedroom because of her health.
A week before Rasmussen began seventh grade, she was declared cancer-free, but that didn't mean things instantly became better.
"It was a mess. I was dizzy a lot. It was so emotional," she said.
Fortunately, her parents, her older sister, Jacey, and younger sister, Marybeth, had her back.
"They're the ones that tell me just take it one day at a time," Rasmussen said.
Born with no hearing in her left ear and 75 percent hearing in her right ear, Rasmussen began wearing a hearing aid when she was 8 months old. Her parents learned sign language along with her to make communicating easier.
"They knew it was going to be difficult for me, but they were up for it and learned sign language for me," Rasmussen said.
All through school, Rasmussen has had sign language interpreters with her in class to help make sure she doesn't miss anything. After her cancer scare, Rasmussen decided she wanted to meet other kids who are deaf and hard of hearing. She's attended summer camps, workshops, dances, art festivals and other trips with a bunch of other kids who don't think twice about how someone who wears a hearing aid looks.
In an essay she wrote for an English class, Rasmussen said attending those events was initially scary, but it taught her how to believe in herself.
It gave her the self-confidence to begin wearing a hearing aid again in March. The small device is hardly noticeable, even when Rasmussen's long hair isn't covering her ears. It probably wouldn't make any difference to her if the aid was big and clunky.
"It doesn't matter if I'm different than other people because it's OK to be different," she said. "It doesn't matter what other people say. It helps me."
As for her cancer, there have been a few scares the last couple years when it looked like it might have returned. Adjustments to her medication took care of the issues.
"It can still be scary because you never know what it can do to you," she said.
Rasmussen will head to Wayne State College in August to study early childhood education with plans to be a preschool or kindergarten teacher someday, maybe a special education teacher who works with children with disabilities.
Other children could learn from her own experiences, Rasmussen said, and even now she encourages others to be more open to others who are different.
"No matter what other people go through in their life," she said, "just don't judge them until you fully know who they are. Just be positive."
It's a message we should all be listening to.
DAKOTA CITY -- Nebraska voters head to the polls Tuesday to elect Republican and Democratic nominees for a bevy of federal, state and county offices.
In Dakota County, a large field of candidates are seeking two open county commission seats. Republican incumbents William "Billy" Rhode of Homer and Kevin Love of South Sioux City each decided not to seek another four-year term.
The top two Republicans and Democrats with the most votes in Tuesday's primary will advance to the November general election.
The crowded nine-candidate GOP field includes Richard McNear of Hubbard, Janet Gill of Jackson, Troy Launsby of Homer, Jasper J. Kriens of South Sioux City, Dennis W. Harris of Homer, Maira Tripp of South Sioux City, Greg Utech of Hubbard, Kevin Chambers of Homer and Bill McLarty of South Sioux City.
McLarty is a former Dakota County commissioner and South Sioux City mayor and councilman.
Four Democrats -- Ron Hartnett of Dakota City, Larry Albenesius of Jackson, Randy Groetken of Dakota City and Lue Franco of South Sioux City -- are on Tuesday's ballot, competing for two slots on the general election ballot. Bill Engle, a former county commissioner, is waging a write-in campaign.
In Dakota County, Assessor Jeff Curry, Attorney Kim Watson, Clerk Joan Spencer, Clerk of District Court Phyllis Obermeyer, Public Defender Louvontree Hunter, Sheriff Chris Kleinberg and Treasurer Robert Giese are all running unopposed. Curry, Spencer and Kleinberg are Republicans, while Watson, Obermeyer, Hunter and Giese are Democrats.
In Tuesday's election, Dakota City voters also will consider whether to raise the city's sales tax by a half cent to finance a prioritized list of backlogged infrastructure projects, of which fire hydrants are at the top.
If approved, it would raise the overall sales tax rate in the city to 6.5 percent, effective Jan. 1. Along with fire hydrants, the added revenue also could eventually fund replacement of catch basins and street panels and inspection of storm sewers.
Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and GOP U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer are each running for their second terms.
In Tuesday's GOP primary, Ricketts faces a longshot intraparty challenge from Krystal Gabel, an Akron, Iowa, native and graduate of Briar Cliff University.
State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, a Republican during nine of his 10 years in the Nebraska Legislature, is considered the favorite in the Democratic race for governor. He is competing with Vanessa Gayle Ward and Tyler A. Davis in the primary election.
Four candidates are challenging Fischer for the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race Tuesday. They include Jack Heidel, Dennis Frank Macek, Jeffrey Lynn Stein and Todd F. Watson.
The Democratic candidates are Jane Raybould, Frank B. Svoboda, Larry Marvin and Chris Janicek. Jim Schultz is the Libertarian candidate.
In Nebraska's 3rd Congressional District, which is the state's largest geographically, a trio of GOP candidates are challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Adrian Smith. The challengers include Kirk Penner of Aurora, Larry Lee Scott Bolinger of Alliance and Arron Kowalski of Grand Island.
Paul Theobald of Osmond is the lone Democratic candidate in the sprawling 3rd District, which is largely rural and Republican-leaning. It includes the northeast Nebraska counties of Dakota, Dixon, Cedar and Wayne.
In the state's 1st Congressional District, which includes Thurston County, Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry will automatically advance to the general election. Democrats Jessica McClure and Dennis P. Crawford will be on the ballot. Democrat Steve Svoboda of Lincoln is running as a write-in candidate.
SIOUX CITY — After contentious negotiations with one of the groups, the Sioux City School Board unanimously approved new contracts with four union groups when it met Monday.
The Sioux City Education Association, which represents more than 1,000 teachers, agreed earlier on Monday to accept a three-year deal that includes a 2.08 percent pay increase before reductions and the elimination of “6-period pay” for middle and high school teachers and an overall pay increase of 0.56 percent, according to Rita Vannatta, the district’s head of human resources.
Under the new scale, the average annual teacher salary will increase from $63,637 in this year to $65,038 in fiscal year 2018-19. Set to take effect July 1, the deal also includes a provision that would allow the teachers' union to renegotiate base pay after the first year.
Iowa’s new collective bargaining law removed health insurance and other employee benefits from the list of mandatory items of negotiation for non-public safety employees, something that led to tougher negotiations between the union and the district.
After the meeting, board president Mike Krysl expressed relief a deal was reached but also noted that limited and diminished state funding played a role in making the talks so arduous.
“This has been a very difficult year in a lot of ways and I think a lot of us are just exhausted,” he said. “We’ve never experienced anything quite like this and getting to this agreement was quite an accomplishment but at the same time I think everyone is feeling a little bit empty knowing that next year this is going to be an even greater challenge perhaps.”
The district also approved agreements with the 400-member Sioux City Educational Support Personnel Association, which represents paraprofessional associates, secretaries and bus assistants; the Sioux City Community School District Bus Drivers Association; and the Operations & Maintenance Employees International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 234.
In other business, a proposal to amend the 2017-18 fiscal year budget from $201 million to $211 million was approved unanimously. Patty Blankenship, district chief financial officer, said the funds are related to facility acquisition and construction projects. Specifically, she noted work was ahead of schedule on the new Hunt and Bryant elementary schools and additional expense associated with the Career Academy.