Iowa, an oft-forgotten state in the United States’ Midwest, is a hidden gem for gamblers. Whether it be on a riverboat, on tribal lands, or at one of the state’s many racetracks, there are plenty of ways you can get in on the action as far as live casino play is concerned. Though the state does have some fairly strict penalties for those who do not gamble within the realm of state law, this is seldom a concern seeing as gambling is available in almost every corner of the state and everywhere in between.
In this article, we strive to not only fill you in on where in Iowa you can gamble but also the types of gambling you will find and any laws that may be important or interesting.
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Ameristar Council Bluffs
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Iowa has a well-developed gambling industry with multiple land-based real money gaming options to choose from. The local casinos are run by both Indian tribes and commercial operators, with the most important gambling establishments located in the Council Bluffs area.
If slots and table games aren’t your cup of tea, you’re free to try pari-mutuel gambling and charity gambling events. Iowa also operates its own lottery, but the local legislators haven’t passed any iGaming-friendly regulations yet. As a result, local online gambling enthusiasts are forced to stick to offshore sites.
Outside of the state of Nevada, no state in America houses more casinos per capita than Iowa, which was the first state in the nation to legalize riverboat casinos. Today, all 22 casinos and racinos in Iowa are land-based.
From the six casinos that dot the Mississippi River on the eastern edge of the state, to Harrah’s Council Bluffs and Ameristar just across the Missouri River in the west, to the Grand Falls Casino in Larchwood not far from Sioux Falls, South Dakota – the state of Iowa is covered in gambling establishments.
The three tribal casinos are:
There is a fourth tribal casino set to open in Carter Lake, Iowa called Prairie Flower Casino.
The numerous commercial casinos operating in the state, which all offer slot machines and table games, are located in the following cities:
All casino players must be at least 21 years old.
Iowa law does not specifically prohibit online casinos, but its broad language regarding “wagering” is considered strong enough to make them illegal.
As the name of this type of casino implies, tribal casinos are those located on sovereign Native American lands. In most respects, Native Americans are able to govern their lands as they see fit, so even if Iowa law banned casinos there is a good chance Native American casinos would still be able to exist. In Iowa, the casinos that are owned and operated by the tribes are quite similar to the ones you might find in Florida and Arizona.
When it comes down to it, just about any type of gambling can occur at tribal casinos. This includes slots and table games as well as live poker. While some of these sites are standalone casinos, others are full-service casino resorts complete with numerous amenities alongside the actual casino floor.
So long as they are licensed by the state, riverboat casinos can exist in much the same way as tribal casinos. This includes, of course, the number and variety of games that are on offer. While some states may restrict you to only slot play on riverboats, the state of Iowa is fairly lenient in that you will find slots, table games, and live poker on many of the riverboats in the state.
Of course, if you are not near a lake or river, laying claim to riverboat gambling will be something that proves to be difficult.
Though Iowa may not have any standalone casinos, per se, they do have plenty of casinos that exist on the property of a horse or dog racetrack. Like the two aforementioned casino types, racetrack casinos in the state are able to offer a wide variety of different games. Once again, this is only the case so long as the racetrack casino is licensed by the state.
Although sports betting is not yet legal in Iowa, Rep. Jake Highfill says everyone is “all in” on legalizing it in 2019. Highfill has been the chief sponsor of a bill set to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling from last May, capitalizing on the momentum to legalize sports gambling at the state level.
Governor Kim Reynolds, on the other hand, says Iowa will be deliberate before legalizing anything. “What we are doing is working with the legislature, working with the different agencies to see what that would look like and how it would be implemented. There are a lot of questions to be answered.”
So, while it may not happen right away as Highfill suggests, the environment is right, and Iowa isn’t a state that shies away from expanding its gaming laws.
While in most states, daily fantasy sports are either legal or not classified, this gambling form is illegal in Iowa. There is legislation in the works to legalize it, although the bill first got its legs in 2015 and has not been successful so far.
Section 725.7 of the Iowa Code is at issue – it states that making a bet or participating in a game for any sum of money is illegal and can be escalated to a felony by the third offense. For as long as this law is on the books, all DFS operators remain outside of state lines and block all player signups from Iowa.
Gambling on eSports is also illegal because of the abovementioned law.
Horse racing was legalized in Iowa in 1984. Construction on the state’s first horse racecourse began in 1987, and by 1989, the first wagers at Prairie Meadows were placed.
What makes Prairie Meadows unique – other than its status as a young racecourse that has become one of the premier sites for racing in the Midwest – is that it is run by a non-profit board that funnels all of the revenue from the trackback to community projects in the Des Moines area.
The Prairie Meadows live race season runs from April to October, although you can watch and participate in the track’s simulcast wagering year-round from all over the country.
There is one greyhound track left in the state – the Iowa Greyhound Park in Dubuque, where the live racing schedule runs from May to November.
Off-track betting is also legal in Iowa. Several casinos offer racebooks and a complete schedule of simulcast racing.
You must be at least 18 years old to place any wagers.
Iowa is a regular on the live poker tournament tour, with the World Series of Poker Circuit making an annual visit to the Horseshoe Council Bluffs Casino poker room. The 18-table room is the largest in the state and offers tournaments at least six days a week.
The Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel hosts the Mid States Poker Tour each fall. It features ten tables in its poker room and offers promotions and tournaments seven days a week. For example, if you play poker for at least four hours, the casino comps your hotel room.
Poker rooms can also be found at nine other casinos in the state, including an eight-table room at Prairie Meadows Racetrack.
Social poker games are also legal as long as no one makes a profit off the game or wins more than $50.
Online poker remains illegal.
The Iowa Lottery opened in 1985 and sold nearly seven million scratch-off tickets in its very first week. Along with scratch-offs, the lottery also offers the following draw games:
According to the Iowa Lottery website, claim times for winning tickets vary by game.
Along with Iowa’s tribal casinos that offer bingo, authorized non-profits in the state can apply for a license to host bingo games, and they must follow these rules:
There are more than 150 charitable organizations in Iowa that host bingo each week.
The history of Iowa gambling is really negligible up until the early 1990s. In 1991, the state of Iowa passed down a ruling that said, in short, that individual counties are to be tasked with the decision regarding the legality of gambling. So while one county may offer a wide range of gambling opportunities, another county is well within its right to ban those same sites.
Something interesting to note is that if the state (or in the case of Iowa, the county) does not specifically allow for a type of gambling, it is deemed to be illegal. So, for example, if one county explicitly sets forth a mandate that allows slot play and table games, but makes no mention of live poker, any casino offering live poker games is said to be in violation of the law. For this reason, the actual written law governing the legality of casinos in most counties is long, drawn-out, and cumbersome.
Another interesting facet of Iowa gambling law is that, unlike other states, Iowa does allow for some gambling games—like poker—to be played in a social setting such as at a Firehall or in a private residence. There is a somewhat dated $50 profit rule that makes it illegal for someone to take home winnings that exceed that amount, but small games like those mentioned above are rarely subject to legal scrutiny.
Finally, Iowa is said to be only a short time away from legalizing online casinos like we have seen in Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada. Though Native American tribes have so far succeeded in destroying bills in 2012 and 2013, experts believe that Iowa will be the next state to set up an intrastate network of online casinos. All told, the state of Iowa is surprisingly liberal when it comes to gambling. This is despite Iowa regularly being considered a heavily conservative state. As we move ahead into the future the feeling is that things are only going to get better for gamblers living in or visiting the state of Iowa.