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Sports betting off to hot start at Hard Rock in Sioux City
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Sports betting off to hot start at Hard Rock in Sioux City

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Hard Rock Casino sports book

A customer places a bet Sept. 20 at the sports book area at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Sioux City. The casino opened its sports gambling area that day and started accepting bets in the afternoon.

SIOUX CITY – Gamblers at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City wagered over $1.2 million on football, baseball, basketball and other sports during the downtown casino’s first full month of sports betting.

Sports wagering became legal in Iowa in mid-August, but the Hard Rock didn’t take its first bets until Sept. 20. During those final days of September, the casino’s handle totaled $282,652. In October, the handle grew to $1,220,939.

Anthony Torres, Hard Rock's director of sports book operations, said the downtown casino is well on its way to exceeding its initial sports books projections for the last half of 2019. 

"We're going to hit the six month's goal in 103 days," Torres said Wednesday. "I'm really excited about the volume we've been getting. The customer loyalty has been outstanding."

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The casino continues to see lots of first-time sports betters, he added.

"Week after week, we're still getting, 'Hey, this is the first time I've done this. Can you help me?'" he said. 

Among the 19 state-licensed casinos, the Hard Rock’s sports betting handle was the 11th highest in October, according to figures released this week by the state Racing and Gaming Commission. Prairie Meadows in suburban Des Moines was the runaway leader with over $17.8 million in total bets. Isle Capril in Waterloo had the second most with nearly $3.8 million, followed close behind by the $3.7 million bet at Ameristar II, one of three casinos in Council Bluffs.

The Hard Rock’s numbers have room to grow. The casino currently only accepts sports bets placed by patrons inside the casino. Torres said the Hard Rock expects to add online betting by early December.

Only a handful of Iowa's casinos currently offer gamblers an online option, which under state law requires patrons to first register at a casino. Out-of-state residents who register can place online bets on their smart phones or other devices, but only within the state's borders.

Grand Falls Casino Resort, located in rural Lyon County, just across the South Dakota border, is one of the seven Iowa casinos offering both retail and online sports better.

Hard Rock Casino sports book

Papers listing games that can be betted on are on a rack at the sports book area at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

In October, Grand Falls’ sports wagering handle totaled over $1.3 million, with $828,786 coming from retail betting and $499,933 from online bets.

Grand Falls’ adjusted net receipts from sports betting — accounting for winner payouts – totaled $212,547 in October, after paying out $1,116,173 in winnings.

Hard Rock Casino sports book

Jacob Bossman, Iowa House Dist. 6 representative from Sioux City, places a bet at the sports book area at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

The Hard Rock collected $182,704 in net receipts, after paying out $1,038,255 in winnings last month.

Overall, Iowa gamblers placed $46.5 million in bets in October, pushing the overall handle for wagers online or in person to $93.6 million since it became legal in mid-August. Sports betting increased from nearly $38.53 million in September.

The overall total of $93.6 million breaks down to nearly $51.4 million wagered online using apps offered by seven casinos, and $42.2 million in retail sports betting

The Casino Queen in Marquette is the only state sanctioned casino without a sports betting license.

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“The interest in October was pretty good,” said Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association — an umbrella group for the 19 licensed casinos. "As this continues to mature, the interest will continue to grow and likewise the revenues to the state."

Max Bichsel, vice president of U.S. business for the Gambling.com Group, a marketing company in the sports betting industry, said the state is early into sports wagering and still has an immature market that will expand significantly once all the casinos with state licenses offer sports betting and online options become more common.

“I think Iowa has a lot more potential to unlock,” said Bichsel, who business publishes comparison sites for legal online gambling services and provides sports betting tips, picks and expert commentary. “That’s really an inhibitor to growth and really getting the numbers up there in the hundreds of millions versus the tens of millions in terms of handle. I think that’s the way that you exponentially grow the business, so that’s really the only down side of those Iowa numbers — thinking what they could be.”

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Iowa’s decision to initially require in-casino registration for mobile sports betting apps is hindering online action and growth overall, he said, when compared with other states.

That requirement will end Jan. 1, 2021, under legislation approved last session and signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last May that legalized betting not only on pro and college athletics, but also on daily fantasy sports such as at DraftKings and FanDuel.

Overall adjusted gross revenue from sports betting — accounting for winner payouts — grew from $4.9 million in September to $5.6 million in October and stood at $12.78 million for the year to date, according to commission data. Sports betting has brought in $861,846 of state tax revenue based upon a tax rate of 6.75 percent.

According to data so far, the growth in sports betting does not appear to be coming at the expense of other gambling. For the first three months of fiscal 2020 — that’s July, August and September — overall gambling numbers at state-licensed casinos were up about 7 percent compared with the same quarter a year ago.

Rod Boshart of the Journal Des Moines Bureau contributed to this story.

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