Gambling law in the United States can be tricky to understand, especially because it changes depending on which state you’re in, what games you like to play, and whether you want to gamble online or in person. However, it wasn’t always this way. Gambling games like poker, blackjack, and craps used to be played freely in social spaces like bars, parks, and people’s parlors.
When the first casinos opened their doors in the early 20th century, they gave people a specific place to play and a set of rules to follow. For the first time, the house was making money from these games, and business owners began to see how lucrative the gambling industry could become.
But not every state wanted to embrace this burgeoning industry. Whether they wanted to keep businesses from making too much profit, were concerned about their citizens losing their money, or objected on moral grounds, the majority of states didn’t want to legalize gambling in their territories. Exceptions were made in a number of states to allow Native Americans to operate casinos within their reservations, but only 2 legalized the activity without restrictions.
The Problem with Online Gambling
Fast forward to the late 1990s and the introduction of the internet brought with it a completely different set of problems. Thanks to the Wire Act of 1961, there are restrictions over how money can move across state lines. Obviously, the internet doesn’t have boundaries that stop people from accessing websites hosted across the border, so the only way to prevent the free flow of money between states was to ban online gambling entirely.
There are hundreds of internationally operated online casinos which would love to be able to get access to the billions of Americans who like to play. At the moment, any games are played illegally, and the sites are unregulated in the US – meaning that states aren’t getting taxes from the operators or protecting the deposits and winnings of their citizens.
There has been a huge public push for states to reconsider their stance on online gambling, especially in the 2010s as a Judicial Review into the Wire Act came to the conclusion that online sportsbooks and casinos should not fall under its umbrella. Since then, the majority of states have held, or are planning to hold, state-wide reviews of their own gambling legislation to consider what changes should be made. So far, a total of six states have completely legalized online gambling, while many others have legalized sports betting.
Where Does Iowa Stand on Gambling?
Iowa has been slowly legalizing different gambling activities since 1983. Starting with betting horse and dog racing, two years later the state lottery was formed. In 1989 the first riverboat casino opened, followed by four tribal casinos and then a further 19 land-based venues in 2007. Unlike some places where casinos are concentrated in one or two main cities, Iowa’s casinos are spread pretty evenly across the entire state, making them easily accessible to most people.
Most forms of gambling are legal in Iowa. As long as you’re over the age of 21 you can play casino games within a casino, place sports bets, and buy lottery tickets. You won’t find any gambling machines in bars though, as these were all removed in 2006.
Iowa seems to be fairly relaxed in its regulations about gambling, but there is one place you cannot place real-money wagers: online. Online casinos are banned in Iowa, even to those over 21. You can however play at Time2Play. These sites operate like sweepstakes, with each deposit you make earning you Sweeps Coins which can be exchanged for prizes, including cash. It’s an innovative way of getting around the restrictive laws and making online games available for the players that want them.
Will Online Casinos be Legalized Soon?
The residents of Iowa were greatly in favor of opening up the online sports betting market, and in 2019 this was passed into law. Since then, the industry has boomed, with 2023 seeing more than $2 billion in bets placed, compared to $500 million the year before. If the state government is wondering what legalizing online gambling could do for the state, they only need to look at the revenue generated from online sports betting to see the potential. By taxing local online casinos, the government will be able to increase its spending, having more money to fund schools, public spaces, and local services.
In February the state House of Representatives took the first step towards legalizing online gambling in Iowa by passing a proposed bill – House Study Bill 604 – which seeks to allow the operation of online casinos within state lines. There are a few more stages to go through before online casinos are cleared for use in Iowa, but this is a positive step in the right direction and one that has been welcomed by the residents.
Online casinos are currently not legal in Iowa, but legislation is working its way through the system which will soon see the law changing. Until then there are plenty of land-based casinos where people can play, as well as online sweepstakes casinos that offer a variety of casino-style games without asking players to directly wager real money on the outcomes.