Iowa Ready for Sports? You Bet!

Writer’s Note — This article can be seen at Gaming Today

After becoming the 11th state to legalize sports gambling, the countdown for Iowa to start accepting bets has reached its final few days ahead of Thursday’s noon start.

Eighteen of the state’s 19 casinos plan on accepting sports bets, with the Casino Queen in Marquette the outlier. The size and scope of plans vary across the state, but all have the primary goal of getting bettors to register in person over the next 16 months to be instantly eligible for mobile app sports betting.

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In the northwest corner of the state, the Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City is revamping a 400-square foot area designated for its sportsbook. The company has brought in Anthony Torres as its Director of Sportsbook Operations, with Sioux City his second Hard Rock launch.

Torres, who arrived approximately two weeks ago, helped Hard Rock launch in Atlantic City in January. He confirmed there will be four retail windows straightaway and another four automated betting kiosks available once approved. Torres was intrigued by the potential Sioux City offers being on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota – two states that do not have well-established timelines for legalizing sports betting.

“There’s good foot traffic and we’re on an island. Who else is nearby,” he said. “If you want to make a sports wager anywhere else, you have to make a drive. We’re across the river from Nebraska and four miles south of South Dakota, which has a prominent residential area.”

Torres is helping reconfigure the area surrounding the sports bar, with the sportsbook within 100 feet of the Anthem Bar, which has multiple TVs, and is right next to the Wine Bar. Another key capital improvement is a $16 million covered parking ramp which contains over 500 spaces and offers instant access to the casino.

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“It will be huge, with both the additional parking and the covered parking,” said Torres, who noted the casino’s high season is in winter. “Now with covered parking where you can walk right into the casino, not clean snow off, it’s a huge plus.”

Hard Rock will operate its own book, and Torres is confident the personal interaction will appeal to bettors of all levels.

“From the beginning we’ll have honest lines with personal attention, which helped me out in Atlantic City,” Torres said. “We come out behind the counter, show you the kiosk, how to use the screen, how to look at live wagering. That personal attention.

“We will take the time and have that conversation with the biggest professional and greenest green guy.”

Located centrally in Altoona just outside Des Moines is Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino, one of four casinos William Hill will service. The two sides reached an agreement in January for William Hill to operate at Level 4, an 8,600-square foot area that will feature four betting windows and five kiosks in addition to 50 large high-definition screens, 20 monitors devoted to sports content and a 16-monitor video wall.

Thursday’s opening will mark the culmination of an aggressive play by William Hill, which put more than $1 million into renovating Level 4 at Prairie Meadows before gambling was legalized in Iowa. The sportsbook operator also has Isle Casino properties in Waterloo and Bettendorf as part of a preexisting relationship with Eldorado Properties and added Lakeside Hotel Casino in Osceola last week.

“We knew if (sports betting) was legal we would operate at Waterloo and Bettendorf,” said Dan Shapiro, Vice President for Development of Strategy and Business Development at William Hill.

“We also knew the word in Iowa was the casinos were in support of in-person registration for mobile … We knew we wanted the best locations in Iowa and had been talking to from Prairie Meadows for some time. (It’s) the largest casino for gross gaming revenue, and it is the biggest casino, in a great area outside Des Moines.”

Shapiro echoed Torres’ sentiment on the importance of Level 4 actively engaging with bettors as sports gambling takes off in the state.

“It’s brand new, and as we’ve learned in all the new markets since PASPA, there’s a learning curve, an education curve,” Shapiro said. “In Nevada, you take it for granted. The key in the new markets, especially Iowa and Prairie Meadows is educating the people.

“You want to have a good experience when they come. They hear a commercial, see a billboard, you want them to have that good experience, there’s people to help them make a bet. That’s the key if you want them to keep coming back, educate them on how all the stuff works.”

In the southeast corner of the state in Burlington, Catfish Bend Casino struck an exclusive five-year partnership with PointsBet to be the third-party operator for the Pzazz! Entertainment Complex, which has three hotels and is partners with Spirit Hollow Golf Course nearby.

“I had a friend of mind in the gaming industry, and we made an initial introduction at G2E last October,” Catfish Bend general manager Rob Higgins recounted in the process that led to PointsBet becoming operator. “The initial introduction was incredibly positive. We had a connection with them and them with us.”

The sportsbook occupies 3,000 square feet and will have five betting windows and three automated kiosks as part of a space that totals 5,600 square feet, highlighted by The Boogaloo Sports Bar and Grill, which has 40 LED TV screens.

“I think what it’s going to do for us is bring in a different type of person, a different type of demographic,” Higgins said. “Ever since sports betting was legalized, I can’t go anywhere in southeast Iowa and central Iowa that people don’t bring up sports gambling.

“We have a different variety of things, and with the overall experience, they’ll be excited, and they’ll be blown away by it.”


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