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Iowa sports betting will launch today, which is an amazing statement given the quick timeline to get here.
The Iowa Legislature initially tasked the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) with an ambitious target to have legal sports betting up and running by Aug. 15. That’s just three months after Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a sports betting bill into law.
The NFL season begins early in September, setting up a dynamic that will continue to play out in future years. Industry operators and states want to be ready for the most wagered-upon games in the country, but there’s not much time to do so.
For Iowa, there was an earlier target. The NFL is popular, but the league has no team in the state. As IRGC administrator Brian Ohorilko said, “college football is king here in Iowa.”
Here is how the IRGC managed to expedite sports betting preparations so eight casinos and seven mobile apps could offer Iowa sports betting by Thursday’s launch.
Thus far, the IRGC has issued authorization letters to begin retail sports betting at noon Thursday to:
Ohorilko said that the most important aspect in Iowa’s preparation is that the IRGC began preparing soon after the fall of PASPA, which opened it up for states to legalize sports betting.
The IRGC took its first step toward regulating sports betting last year by seeking regulations to review from other states and jurisdictions.
“We got familiar with all of the states that drafted regulations and made contact with a number of those jurisdictions just so we had those relationships started,” Ohorilko said.
Once a bill is introduced, regulators have a good idea if it is going to pass and a blueprint for the large strokes of regulations. They can begin working on filling out the rest of the regulations from what they learned works in other jurisdictions and figure out what they need from an applicant to issue a sports betting license.
Within a week of the bill being signed into law, the IRGC began drafting regulations, putting out licensing applications and letting industry stakeholders know about the process for getting those applications turned in.
“The legislature really was thorough, so a lot of the more controversial issues in regard to integrity fees, official league data and other areas like that all were addressed through the legislation,” Ohorilko said. “What the commission had to do was just figure out how to implement sports wagering. It’s been authorized, here are the rules, now let’s work toward implementation.”
The bulk of the work in preparing for launch is verifying that licensees have the proper controls and processes in place. The IRGC began soliciting controls based on draft regulations before they received approval.
“In order to launch within the first few months, which the operators asked for, we had to make some assumptions on what those regulations might be,” Ohorilko said.
The IRGC issued controls in three phases, every two weeks. There were 18 total criteria, including mobile review, processes for account registration and problem gambling policy review.
Staff members were assigned to learn everything about controls, then to work individually with applicants as their subject-matter expert on that control.
“Operators sitting in a real good place right now essentially are the ones who completed those as they came out,” Ohorilko said.
Increasingly as states legalize, operators already know what they’re doing because they offer sports betting elsewhere.
They have procedures in place to address many controls. Making them unnecessarily change what works to adapt to rules in Iowa sports betting would slow down the preparation.
As long as requirements are met, Ohorilko said that the commission is flexible with how operators get there:
“If you look at the rules closely, there are specifics in terms of what should be considered by the operators but the commission did not specifically dictate how those controls should be written. That was critical because many of the licensees in Iowa do business in other states. As states are starting to authorize sports betting one-by-one, if there is some consistency or flexibility in compliance to regulations, it allows for an environment where compliance can be met in an efficient manner.”
In the final eight days leading up to launch, the IRGC met individually with every applicant to go over any licensing issues or controls that might be deficient.
The operators then have the opportunity to finish checking boxes to get authorization to launch retail and/or mobile sports betting.
The William Hill properties are the only ones thus far to get authorization to launch mobile. Bet.Works, the mobile partner for the three Elite properties, is still trying to get approval for mobile but is open for retail except at Grand Falls.