Over the last year or so, the number of riverboat casinos has been reducing and this trend will likely continue in the coming year. Just recently, Queen Casino and Entertainment announced that it had received approval from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to move to the coast away from its present location in the Mississippi River.
Now that the casino has received permission to move its location to the coast, only 2 riverboat casinos will remain in the state. The 2 casinos are AmeriStar Casino in Council Bluffs, as well as the Lakeside Hotel Casino in Osceola. Once the Casino Queen Marquette moves to its new location, it is expected to commence renovations to accommodate its new location at 100 Anti-Monopoly Street in the Driftless region.
The casino expects to add at least 12,000 square feet of additional space to make way for the massive 17,000 square foot casinos. This new casino floor will accommodate at least 400 slot machines, 2 blackjack tables, and more casino games. When it welcomes guests again, the brand new casino is also expected to have a new restaurant, as well as a new sportsbook.
Before it received permission to switch locations, the Casino Queen Marquette riverboat was located next to a marina. The casino consisted of a diverse gaming portfolio made up of 566 slot and video poker games with an additional room dedicated just for video poker. Customers of the casino could also access gaming tables for craps, Texas Hold ‘em, Mississippi Stud, and more.
Iowa has a long gambling history that can be traced back to 1983 when the first legal bet in the state was the pari-mutuel bet permitted at dog and horse races. By 1989, the legislature had already allowed riverboat gambling which launched the gambling market in the state as we know it.
The first riverboat casinos were the Casino Belle in Dubuque, the President in Davenport, as well as the Diamond Lady in Bettendorf. All the 3 riverboats were launched on the same day that riverboat gambling was legalized in 1989. However, of the 3, the Diamond Lady in Bettendorf stood out the most as it was the first riverboat casino off the dock.
Iowa legitimized riverboat gambling in 1991. For decades, riverboat casinos were the only type of casino available to punters in the state. In 2004, however, the State Legislature voted to permit the riverboat casinos to moor barges in artificial basins, thus eradicating the rule that casinos had to be riverboats.
This move is what allowed operators to set up hotels and retail spaces adjacent to their riverboat casinos. When the state legalized riverboat casinos in the 90s, gamblers were only allowed to place a maximum bet of $5. The patrons’ losses, on the other hand, were limited to $200 for every session.
These stringent requirements were eradicated in 1993 and by the following year, the first 3 brick and mortar casinos in the state were launched. The Casino Queen Marquette did not make its debut until years later in February 2000. By then, there were already 68 casino riverboats in the state.
What’s the status of iGaming in Iowa?
online sports betting has been thriving in Iowa. However, online casino games are still prohibited. Anyone looking to participate in iGaming activities typically has to venture off to nearby states where iGaming is regulated.
Last year in February 2022, a bill to legalize online casinos in Iowa was introduced in the state House of Representatives. The House Committee introduced House Study Bill 604 to allow advanced deposit betting on casino games such as slots, blackjack, roulette, baccarat, and more.
This bill would also allow the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission to enter into strategic partnerships with regulators from other states, which would allow for poker tournaments to be played across various states. Such agreements would lay the foundation for interstate poker, which has remained elusive for many states despite being so critical to the health and success of the online poker industry in the country.
When several states agree to share liquidity, the online casino operators in each of the markets can seat poker players from different states at similar tables. What this results in are bigger tournaments that generate even bigger prize pools, which ultimately ensures success for all the parties involved. Currently, only 4 states are reaping the benefits of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA).
Aside from House Study Bill 604, there really hasn’t been a massive legislative push for real money online casinos in the state. Any movement to regulate online casino games hasn’t received a lot of momentum even though states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey have proven that online casino games are critical to the success of any modern gambling market.
A report generated last year by analysts from Morgan Stanley found that should online poker and casino gaming be legalized in Iowa by 2024, the state would produce at least $269 million in iGaming revenue. This figure would grow to $358 million by 2025 and $466 million by 2028.
Iowa’s gambling regiment requires online operators to partner with a brick-and-mortar casino, a racino, or a riverboat casino in order to start offering sports betting services. The biggest online poker operators in the country WSOP, BetMGM, and PokerStars, all have indirect market access in the state thanks to various sports betting partnerships.
As such, if the state suddenly decided to legalize online casino games, the process of setting up a new market wouldn’t be too arduous. Over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of gambling fatigue within the Capitol. With so many changes having taken effect over the last few years, legislators in the state do not seem in a rush to approve iGaming or make any more drastic changes to the market.
The gambling market in Iowa has gone through numerous changes over the years. However, these much-needed changes have only helped the market thrive. Today, it remains to be seen whether the state will eventually permit online casino gaming despite the clear benefits of legalizing iGaming in Iowa.