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WinnaVegas, Blackbird Bend tribal casinos eye now-legal sports betting in Iowa

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WinnaVegas Casino anniversary

WinnaVegas Casino Resort CEO Mayan Beltran, shown in April 2017, said the tribal casino intends to add sports bettering as early as August. The Winnebago Tribe owns and operates the casino near Sloan. 

SIOUX CITY -- Two tribal casinos in western Iowa are looking to join their state-licensed counterparts in offering sports betting.

WinnaVegas Casino Resort, owned and operated by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska near Sloan, Iowa, hopes to open a sports book by mid-August, right before the college and NFL football seasons kick off. 

"We are waiting for the (Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission) to develop the rules for the state of Iowa that we will use," WinnaVegas CEO Mayan Beltran said Thursday. "Whatever the law allows, we will make available to our guests."

Blackbird Bend Casino, which the Omaha Tribe operates on its land near Onawa, also will likely add sports wagering in the near future, Chief Operating Officer Brad Appleton said Thursday.

"The probability is pretty high...We will not go into a full-blown sports parlor, but we will have a sports wagering system available, through a kiosk or such system," Appleton said.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill allowing wagering on most college and pro sports at the 19 state-licensed casinos. Tribal leaders say the added form of wagering also applies to tribal casinos that have compacts with the state. The Winnebago and Omaha tribes negotiated their agreements in the early 1990s after Iowa legalized riverboat gambling.

The tribal casinos' entry into sports betting will create added competition for state-licensed western Iowa casinos like the Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos that also intend to add sports books.

"Everybody is going to have it, so you have to stay in competition," Beltran said.

WinnaVegas, which is about a 25-minute drive from Sioux City, will initially set up sports betting in its 360 Lounge, he said. Over time, casino officials will see if an expansion of the casino is needed to accommodate the wagering.

Appleton said a decision on adding sports betting at Blackbird Bend will be made in upcoming weeks, once the state provides more details on the games. The IRGC, which regulates the state-licensed casinos, has started developing rules for sports betting and expects to finalize them by July or August.

A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states other than Nevada to offer bookmaking and betting at casinos and racetracks. Iowa is the second Midwest state, behind Indiana, to legalize sports wagering.

Beltran said he's followed the sports betting debate for years. He maintains placing a bet at an Iowa casino is preferable to having to travel to Las Vegas to do it or being "scammed" by an illegal bookie. 

"It is actually better for the gamer, that it is opening up around the country," Beltran said.

Appleton noted the profit margins that casinos take from sports betting are only about 5 percent. Therefore, he said the reason to add sports gambling is not to generate large revenues but as an added way to draw people to Blackbird Bend, which is about a 40-minute drive from Sioux City.

"It will just add another amenity, to increase the attractiveness of our facility," Appleton said.

Tribes have emerged as key player in the national debate over expanded sports betting. As in Iowa, some tribes are working to start their own sports books. But, in others, tribes are fighting sports wagering or taking a go-slow approach because they worry it might force them to reopen decades-old agreements that give them exclusive rights to operate casinos and offer certain forms of gambling.

In Minnesota, a bill to legalize sports betting has stalled in the Legislature mainly because of the political power of the state's tribes, which operate 21 casinos. The Minnesota tribes have expressed fears the legislation could allow sports betting on mobile devices and invite wider internet gambling that could threaten their operations.

Iowa's new sports wagering is expected to attract bettors from neighboring states like South Dakota and Nebraska. The latter is a major source of revenue at three casinos in Council Bluffs, just across the Missouri River from Omaha. 

The state stands to collect a 6.75% tax on the casinos' sports-betting “hold," which is the house’s share after bets have been settled. Betting will be restricted to adults age 21 and over.

Sioux City's Hard Rock anticipates rolling out sports bets as soon as state regulators give their OK. The downtown casino is negotiating with a third-party entity to operate the sports book and is working with an architect to select the best spot for the new gambling option.

The Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort, located in extreme Northwest Iowa, just across the South Dakota border, intends to reconfigure some existing space to add sports betting.

The Journal's Dave Dreeszen and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2019 The Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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