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Let the gaming begin: Iowans place bets as legal sports gambling opens in the state
24th September, 13:40Amado Cavazos has bet on sports during trips to Las Vegas.
On Thursday, the West Des Moines man became one of the first people to legally place a sports bet in Iowa.
Cavazos walked up to the betting window at Prairie Meadows Casino shortly after noon and lodged two bets on Thursday night baseball games. He liked the Dodgers' chances against the Marlins and picked the Cubs to beat the Phillies.
"That one was a bit of homerism," he said. "I'm a big Cubs fan."
Iowa's ban on sports betting officially ended at noon on Thursday.
Cavazos was part of a long line of Iowans who flocked to Prairie Meadows' newly opened sportsbook to place their bets. Six other Iowa casinos took their first sports bets Thursday. Another 10 plan to follow suit in the next few months.
The Iowa Legislature this spring passed a law allowing legalized sports betting through casinos. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission finalized its rules last month, setting Thursday as the start date.
Iowans now have access to wager on 26 professional or college sports leagues or organizations. Iowa is the 11th U.S. state to legalize sports betting.
►More: Sports betting in Iowa: What you need to know and what games you can wager on
Four Iowa casinos, including Prairie Meadows, will soon begin taking sports bets on a mobile app.
The first legal sports wager in the history of the Prairie Meadows was fittingly made on the Cyclone-Hawkeye rivalry.
State Sen. Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, put his money on the Cyclones in the Sept. 14 football game. Whitver played four seasons on the ISU team in the early 2000s before running for office.
Decked out in pinstripes, fellow Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, put his money on the Yankees to beat Cleveland.
A few hundred people filled the sportsbook for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Dozens lined up to place bets. A separate line of people signing up for mobile betting snaked down a fourth-floor hallway.
Among them was Brendan Boothe, of West Des Moines, who bet $100 on a quartet of baseball games.
"It feels a lot better to be able to do it legally than going through a bookie," the 33-year-old said. "Or having to wait to fly out to Las Vegas."
For others, like Jani Ruggieri, it was a completely new experience. The 58-year-old Urbandale resident stood at the back of the line with her husband and 23-year-old daughter, Danika, examining the slate of upcoming NFL preseason games.
"We're here to learn," she said, after getting some pointers from one of the people ahead of her in line. "I'm just excited they have sports betting now here. I'm not into the horses and the other stuff, but it's fun to bet on football."
Prairie Meadows President and CEO Gary Palmer said the casino had taken a gamble on sports betting. It started working on its sportsbook while legalization talks were still in the early stages.
The casino announced a partnership with sportsbook operator William Hill in January, a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on sports betting outside of Nevada. The casino began renovating its fourth-floor horse racing simulcast, part of a larger $1.5 million renovation project.
It added a sportsbook area with walls of televisions to display games and betting odds, a new entryway with a ribbon board and arena-style scoreboard hanging from the ceiling, and a bar area that serves food and drinks, including craft beer. The casino then waited patiently as the sports betting bill made its way through the Legislature.
Looking at the people filling the room Thursday afternoon, Palmer said he was pleased with the results.
"It's kind of like taking the elephant off your back," he said. "All this pre-work's done, and now we're taking bets. So it's a great and exciting day for us."
William Hill CEO Joe Asher praised Iowa's "great sports culture." He said his company had long eyed the state as a place it wanted to establish a presence.
He said the company had the future of legalized sports betting in mind when it opened a racebook in Council Bluffs in 2017, in part to establish a good relationship with the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission.
"We've always had a real big focus on Iowa," he said. "We always felt it was going to be a great opportunity for us."
Iowans will eventually be able to bet via mobile app through some casinos, but that option wasn't immediately available Thursday.
William Hill's sportsbooks in Altoona, Waterloo, Bettendorf and Osceola have been authorized to offer mobile wagering and plan to provide applications for Android and iPhone users.
Asher said Thursday the Android app was expected to be available late Thursday or early Friday. The app for Apple users will arrive later, but likely within the next two weeks, he said.
Those wishing to bet via mobile app are still able to sign up at their respective casinos. Users must first show up in person to verify their identity and set up their account before placing a bet.
Ian Richardson covers Ankeny and Altoona for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com, at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.