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KWWL Special Report: Casino gaming on the rise in Iowa

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KWWL) — As more Iowans join the workforce, more spending is going towards leisure activities like gambling.

According to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, 2018 was the best revenue year for casinos in six years, raking in about $1.5 billion. Administrator for the commission, Brian Ohorilko, says revenue has been on the rise since the recession.

“2013 was a special time, in that the economy was really good and then we did go through the recession.  Since that recession, we’ve had kind of a natural, steady growth again.”

The Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque has seen that growth to be true. The gaming facility raked in about $70 million last year. Wendy Runde, general manager of the Diamond Jo Casino, says their business continues to see that growth.

“At the Diamond Jo, specifically, we’ve experienced steady gaming revenue growth over the past several years and 2018 was another great year.”

Iowa’s good economy contributes to this revenue growth. Iowa’s unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the U.S at 2.5%, with Iowans making nearly 5.5% more than they did three years ago.

University of Dubuque economic professor, Eric Munshower, says with Iowa’s unemployment rate so low, people are spending more on leisure activities.

“Household leisure income is going up.  We have more money that is disposable to spend.”

He says people will generally spend money on necessities no matter what they earn, but as earnings go up, more is spent on non-necessities.

“Food being the most obvious, housing, that are going to be consumed regardless, or very close to, regardless of the income level. There’s another category of goods we would consider consumer goods, which we consider leisure goods, which consumption increases as the income levels go up.”

Ohorilko says even though Iowans are spending more on gambling, less are walking through casino doors. Iowa’s casinos have seen a decrease in admissions.

“Even though revenue has remained pretty stable or increased incrementally, admissions have declined, and so it’s something that could potentially be a problem in the future.”

Sports wagering may help the declining admissions. Ohorilko says many casinos have been planning for sports betting to be signed into law.  Now that it has, they plan to take full advantage of it.  One of those casinos is the Q Casino in Dubuque. CEO Jesus Aviles says they will have sports betting available for their customers in a variety of ways.

“We will offer sports betting in the property. We’ll also eventually have an app that will be geocentric for people in Iowa that want to partake in the facility.”

He says sports wagering will bring in more revenue for his business.

“I think this will create a new venue of revenue, and a new venue of entertainment for our customers.”

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission says they hope to have sports betting regulations finalized by August to have casinos ready for the busy football season. The bill immediately legalizes fantasy and internet sports betting.

Last year, Iowa’s casinos paid about $300 million in taxes, which go towards fixing Iowa’s infrastructure, funding schools and paying for scholarships.

According to the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, one in five Iowans will become addicted to gambling. For help with an addiction call 1-800-BETS OFF.

Cori Hanna

Today in Iowa reporter

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