A Guide to Gambling in Iowa
Outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, no place in America offers the same scope of gambling options as Iowa.
With 19 commercial casinos, and three more of the tribal variety, the Hawkeye State's population of 3.1 million has more gambling venues to choose from per capita than anywhere else in the nation.
Throw in a state lottery, horseracing and greyhound tracks, bingo halls and other forms of legal gambling and Iowa is a punter's paradise.
This page will walk you through everything you need to know about gambling in Iowa, including a thorough review of the relevant laws, a discussion about online gambling options in the state, a historical timeline, frequently asked questions and a wealth of additional resources.
We hope our Guide to Gambling in Iowa proves useful as you prepare to bring your bankroll to America's heartland.
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Online Gambling and Iowan Law
As is the case for 47 states - leaving aside Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware - players in Iowa who prefer wagering online have little recourse in terms of legal options.
Simply put, the federal law known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 is still the law of the land - even if it has proven to be extremely unpopular. The UIGEA was passed during the "poker boom", when everybody and their mother could be found bluffing and building stacks on sites like PartyPoker, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.
The law used a federal statute known as the Wire Act of 1961 - which prohibited sports betting wagers from being placed via telephone - as precedent for banning online gambling.
Congressional "leaders" attached the UIGEA to an unrelated bill to support port security spending, knowing the last minute amendment to shoe in legislation would never be seriously studied. It passed of course, and when it did, operating an online gambling enterprise that serves American players became a federal crime.
Operators like PartyPoker took the hint and withdrew from the U.S. market almost immediately, but sites like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and dozens of small online casinos chose to stick it out. They flouted the law for five years, allowing millions of Americans to enjoy poker, blackjack, slots and other games from the comfort of home.
But in April of 2011, the Department of Justice (DOJ) brought the hammer down on these so-called "rogue operators," unsealing an indictment against several of the key executives involved. They also seized domain names and shuttered the offending sites, suddenly denying access to the major sites for millions of players in an incident known as "Black Friday."
Things looked bleak, but by December of 2011 the DOJ released an opinion that rocked the industry. According to them, the Wire Act only applied to sports betting, meaning the UIGEA couldn't be used to ban online poker, casino games and slots.
Almost immediately, individual states began exploring their own regulated online gambling industries, and the three listed above succeeded in passing legislation to that effect. Today, players in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware can gamble online through fully regulated and licensed sites.
As for Iowa, progress has been all but absent.
The state hasn't actively considered an online poker/casino bill in five years, and recent efforts to make daily fantasy sports (DFS) legal have failed.
That leaves players in a state of legal limbo, with only offshore operators to choose from. Playing on an unregulated site for real money can be a scary prospect for most, and that's perfectly understandable given the few bad apples out there.
Thankfully, established sites like the ones above, have filled the niche admirably, providing dedicated service to American players for several years, and even decades in some cases. These platforms are well respected for a reason, as they've worked diligently to cultivate a strong reputation with their player base. By paying out promptly, offering generous bonuses and promotions and operating with game integrity at the forefront, sites like these are safely used for real money online gambling millions of times every year.
What is Idaho's stance on online betting. Are Offshore Gambling Sites Safe?
What is an offshore gamebling site and is it safe. Can I be arrested for gambling online in Iowa?
If it's a crime does that mean jail time? More Gambling Laws in Iowa
Breaking down what exactly is or isn't legal in Iowa. Gambling Venues in Iowa
Where to gamble in the state of Iowa. The History of Gaming Laws in Iowa
A brief history of Iowa laws regarding gambling. Iowa Gambling FAQ
Taking a look at the questions Idaho gamblers have asked. The Furture of Gambling in Iowa
What does the future of gambling look like in Idaho?
Is Online Gambling Legal in Iowa?
Not exactly, but it's definitely not illegal either.
As we just discussed above, Iowa resides in the dreaded "grey zone" when it comes to online gambling law. In other words, no statutes are on the books to decide the issue one way or another.
You won't find any language expressly legalizing online gambling, and the last serious effort on that front failed back in 2012. At that time, lawmakers looked into creating a statewide network of online poker sites that would be linked to the state's licensed casinos.
That bill was even passed by the Senate, but it ultimately stalled out due to objections raised by the Republican controlled House.
Today, nothing has changed, so the only guidance found in the Iowa Code would be under Section 725.9, which covers gambling devices:
"725.9 Possession of gambling devices prohibited -- exception for manufacturing.
3. 'Gambling device' means a device used or adapted or designed to be used for gambling and includes, but is not limited to, roulette wheels, klondike tables, punchboards, faro layouts, keno layouts, numbers tickets, slot machines, pinball machines, push cards, jar tickets and pull-tabs. However, 'gambling device' does not include an antique slot machine, antique pinball machine, or any device regularly manufactured and offered for sale and sold as a toy, except that any use of such a toy, antique slot machine or antique pinball machine for gambling purposes constitutes unlawful gambling."
In a strict reading of this law, a talented attorney may be able to argue that a computer or mobile device outfitted with an online gambling application has been "adapted ... to be used for gambling."
We wouldn't agree with that sentiment in the slightest, but stranger things have happened in the courtroom.
All things considered, online gambling is surely not legal in Iowa (just yet), while the issue of illegality is less settled. In any event, authorities are only interested in punishing operators - those collecting big bucks from online gambling sites without paying taxes - not players.
Are Offshore Gambling Sites Safe?
Most of them are as safe as using Amazon or eBay to shop online.
Unfortunately, those bad apples we mentioned earlier do crop up from time to time, and their malfeasance tends to attract media attention. For this reason, many readers may have a bad taste in their mouths when the phrase "offshore gambling sites" is mentioned.
In reality, instances of fraud or mistreatment of players are few and far between in the online gambling industry - and for one simple reason. Savvy operators know the numbers, and with negative expectation games making up the entirety of their selection, an online casino will always generate healthy profits simply by running things above board.
There's just no reason to steal from players, delay payouts or mess with game integrity when an online casino ran honestly will still pull in piles of cash.
That's why our recommended sites have been in the business for so long - two decades in some cases - because players know by now where they'll be treated right. The player community is close-knit thanks to the Internet, and online gambling forums are hotbeds for discussion and "experience swapping."
When a player is mistreated by a particular site, they may be written off as an anomaly. But when dozens or even hundreds of players are posting similar stories-the jig is up.
If you're concerned about bringing your bankroll to an offshore gambling site, read up on the player generated reviews found all over the Internet. Shop around for a few different sources, read as many reviews as you can and exercise common sense when choosing an online gambling platform.
Can I Get Arrested for Gambling Online in Iowa?
Nope, not to our knowledge anyhow.
A thorough search online for arrests related to online gambling in Iowa turned up no results whatsoever. As we discussed in the first question, there just aren't any laws on the books that a local police department or state gaming regulator could rely on to charge you for online gambling.
Until the General Assembly introduces a bill to expressly ban the industry, AND the voters ratify that decision via referendum vote, the law is quite clear in this regard: cops have no standing to arrest online gamblers.
More Gambling Laws in Iowa
As the wave of green above clearly shows, Iowa is one of the most gambling friendly states in all of America. Currently, players can take part in casino gambling (both commercial and tribal), poker rooms, horse and dog racing, the state lottery, bingo halls and charity/social games.
In fact, the only forms of gambling that are expressly forbidden in Iowa are sportsbooks and daily fantasy sports (DFS), but even the latter has been proposed for legalization twice over the last two years.
As you'll learn in the History of Gambling in Iowa timeline below, it wasn't always this way, as the state's original Constitution simply banned gambling in any form.
That prohibition lasted for 12 decades, leaving entire generations of Iowans in the cold when it comes to wagering on games of chance or skill. But eventually, a 1972 proposed by the General Assembly and passed by voters via the referendum process, repealed that portion of the Constitution. At the time, lawmakers sought to relax restrictions for senior citizens who enjoyed bingo nights as recreational gambling.
But the 1972 repeal opened the proverbial floodgates, and by 1989 Iowa was home to bingo halls, pari-mutuel betting on races, a state lottery and even miniature casinos setup on so called "excursion boats" anchored in the waters of the Mississippi River. The final piece to the puzzle was added in 1994 when lawmakers and voters combined to legalize slot machines and casino gambling within the racetrack setting.
With land based "racinos" now operating alongside the riverboat casinos, it was only a matter of time before full-scale Las Vegas style resort casinos were authorized. That move came in 2007, and today, Iowa is home to an astounding 22 casino venues.
The key law covering gambling in Iowa can be found under Section 725.7 of the Iowa Code, which provides the following definition of illegal gambling (emphasis added):
"1. Except as permitted in chapters 99B [bingo] and 99D [racetracks], a person shall not do any of the following:
a. Participate in a game for any sum of money or other property of any value.
b. Make any bet.
c. For a fee, directly or indirectly, give or accept anything of value to be wagered or to be transmitted or delivered for a wager to be placed within or without the state of Iowa.
d. For a fee, deliver anything of value which has been received outside the enclosure of a racetrack licensed under chapter 99D to be placed as wagers in the pari-mutuel pool or other authorized systems of wagering.
e. Engage in bookmaking."
As you can see, this statute references two other sections of the Iowa Code - Chapters 99B and 99D - both of which provide broad protections to gamblers. Essentially, gambling is only illegal in Iowa when players place wagers outside of a licensed bingo hall, racino or casino.
With dozens of these venues scattered throughout the state, gamblers have plenty of options to choose from, making violations of the gambling law quite rare.
Another interesting law on the books is Chapter 99B-1, which provides clear distinctions between games of chance and games of skill:
"15. 'Game of chance' means a game whereby the result is determined by chance and the player in order to win aligns objects or balls in a prescribed pattern or order or makes certain color patterns appear and specifically includes but is not limited to the game defined as bingo. Game of chance does not include a slot machine.
16. 'Game of skill' means a game whereby the result is determined by the player directing or throwing objects to designated areas or targets, or by maneuvering water or an object into a designated area, or by maneuvering a dragline device to pick up particular items, or by shooting a gun or rifle."
Interestingly enough, Iowa lawmakers classified daily fantasy sports (DFS) as a game of chance during recent deliberations of regulation.
Finally, you need to be 21 years or older to gamble legally in Iowa, per Section 725.19 of the Iowa Code:
"1. Any person under the age of twenty-one years shall not make or attempt to make a gambling wager, except as permitted under chapter 99B. A person who violates this subsection commits a scheduled violation under section 805.8C, subsection 5.
2. A person who knowingly permits a person under the age of twenty-one years to make or attempt to make a gambling wager, except as permitted under chapter 99B, is guilty of a simple misdemeanor."
Gambling Venues in Iowa
For a state that spent more than 120 years as a gambler's "no man's land," and one with a small population of just over 3 million, Iowa boasts a surprisingly wide variety of casinos.
According to the Iowa Gaming Association, the Hawkeye State is home to 22 casino venues - with 19 operated as commercial entities and three more under tribal ownership.
The listing below includes need to know information on all 19 venues, so take a look to find your favorite gambling hotspot below:
1. Ameristar Casino
- 2200 River Road,
Council Bluffs, IA 51501
- (712) 328 - 8888
- Slot Machines: 1,500
- Table Games: 23
2. Catfish Bend Casino
- 3001 Winegard Drive,
Burlington, IA 52601
- (866) 792 - 9948
- Slot Machines: 626
- Table Games: 25
3. Diamond Jo Dubuque
- 301 Bell St,
Dubuque, IA 52001
- (563) 690 - 4800
- Slot Machines: 995
- Table Games: 19
4. Diamond Jo Worth
- 777 Diamond Jo Lane,
Northwood, IA 50459
- (877) 323 - 5566
- Slot Machines: 1,010
- Table Games: 31
5. Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort
- 1415 Grand Falls Blvd,
Larchwood, IA 51241
- (712) 777 - 7777
- Slot Machines: 750
- Table Games: 28
6. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City
- 111 3rd St,
Sioux City, IA 51101
- (844) 222 - ROCK
- Slot Machines: 839
- Table Games: 26
7. Harrah's Council Bluffs
- 1 Harrah's Blvd,
Council Bluffs, IA 51501
- (712) 329 - 6000
- Slot Machines: 547
- Table Games: 19
8. Horseshoe Council Bluffs
- 2701 23rd Ave,
Council Bluffs, IA 51501
- (712) 323 - 2500
- Slot Machines: 1.403
- Table Games: 51
9. Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf
- 1777 Isle Parkway,
Bettendorf, IA 52722
- (563) 441 - 7000
- Slot Machines: 1,000
- Table Games: 19
10. Isle Casino & Hotel Waterloo
- 777 Isle of Capri Blvd,
Waterloo, IA 50701
- (877) ISLE - WIN
- Slot Machines: 948
- Table Games: 25
11. Casino Queen Marquette
- 100 Anti-Monopoly St,
Marquette, IA 52158
- (563) 873 - 3531
- Slot Machines: 534
- Table Games: 8
12. Lakeside Casino & Hotel
- 777 Casino Drive,
Osceola, IA 50213
- (877) 477 - 5253
- Slot Machines: 900
- Table Games: 12
13. Q Casino
- 1855 Greyhound Park Road,
Dubuque, IA 52001
- (563) 582 - 3647
- Slot Machines: 883
- Table Games: 23
14. Prairie Meadows
- One Prairie Meadows Drive,
Altoona, IA 50009
- (515) 967 - 1000
- Slot Machines: 2,000
- Table Games: 40
15. Rhythm City Casino Resort
- 7077 Elmore Ave,
Davenport, IA 52807
- (563) 328 - 8000
- Slot Machines: 795
- Table Games: 31
16. Riverside Casino & Golf Resort
- 3184 Highway 22,
Riverside, IA 52327
- (319) 648 - 1234
- Slot Machines: 977
- Table Games: 46
17. Wild Rose Clinton
- 777 Wild Rose Drive,
Clinton, IA 52732
- (800) 457 - 9975
- Slot Machines: 554
- Table Games: 9
18. Wild Rose Emmetsburg
- 777 Main Street,
Emmetsburg, IA 50536
- (877) 720 - 7673
- Slot Machines: 500
- Table Games: 11
19. Wild Rose Jefferson
- 777 Wild Rose Drive,
Jefferson, IA 50129
- (515) 386 - 7777
- Slot Machines: 525
- Table Games: 12
1. Meskwaki Bingo & Casino
- 1504 305th Street,
Tama, IA 52339
- (800) 728-4263
- Slot Machines: 1,300
- Table Games: 30
2. Blackbird Bend Casino
- 17214 210th St,
Onawa, IA 51040
- (712) 423-9646
- Slot Machines: 400
- Table Games: 22
3. Meskwaki Bingo & Casino
- 1500 330th St,
Sloan, IA 51055
- (712) 428-9466
- Slot Machines: 650
- Table Games: 20
History of Gambling in Iowa
Having been admitted to the Union as the 29th state, Iowa ratifies its original constitution, which includes Article IV, Section 29 to prohibit all forms of gambling: "No lottery shall be authorized by this state, nor shall the sale of lottery tickets be allowed." The full-scale gambling ban would remain in place for the next 126 years.
With the ban on gambling finally removed, the General Assembly approves Chapter 153 of the 1973 Iowa Acts, which allows licensed individuals and organizations to conduct games of chance like bingo and raffles.
The Iowa State Lottery is created through the passage of Chapter 33 of the 1985 Iowa Acts.
Casino style gambling on "excursion boats," which are anchored in the waters of the Mississippi River, is legalized when Chapter 67 of the 1989 Iowa Acts is passed.
With the addition of Chapter 1021 to the 1994 Iowa Acts, pari-mutuel betting parlors are permitted to operate slot machines.
The Iowa General Assembly ratifies Chapter 1141, Section 1 of the 1972 Iowa Acts, thereby repealing the century old gambling prohibition. This move, which came amidst a legislative effort to let senior citizens in the state play bingo without fear of breaking the law, was soon approved by voters.
Pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing is approved via Chapter 187 of the 1983 Iowa Acts. 1989 Iowa Acts ch. 67.
The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is passed by Congress, allowing federally recognized tribes to operate commercial casinos on reservation lands.
Iowa's Department of Inspections and Appeals creates three tribal gaming compacts with the Governor, paving the way for the Winnebago, the Omaha, the Sac and Fox tribes to launch their first casinos that same year.
The General Assembly moves to expand Iowa's casino industry beyond excursion boats by allowing casino style gambling to be held in any qualified "man made structure." Over the next decade, more than a dozen casinos crop up across the state.
Iowa Gambling FAQ
Whenever we digest a healthy portion of new knowledge, we always find ourselves asking questions down the road. Inquiry is an essential part of the learning process, and we know you probably have a few questions of your own.
With that in mind, we tried to anticipate what readers might be wondering about with a few frequently asked questions about gambling in Iowa. Read on to see if your query has been answered:
They sure are, thanks to Section 99B of the Iowa Code which includes several provisions to protect "social gambling."
Under that law, there are two forms of social gambling to consider: licensed and unlicensed.
The licensed variety covers venues like bars, pubs and community clubs that must obtain permission from local authorities before setting up a social game. According to the law, the following restrictions are in place:
"C. Games Permitted - Wagers and Losses.
The games allowed under social gambling include poker, pinochle, pitch, gin rummy, bridge, euchre, hearts, cribbage, dominoes, checkers, chess, backgammon, pool, and darts.
A person shall not win or lose more than $50 in cash or consideration during a 24-hour period.
D. Sports Pools.
Sports pools are also allowed but only on licensed sponsor premises where liquor orbeer is sold. The maximum wager in a pool is limited to $5 and the maximum winning prize is limited to $500 per game."
As you can see, basically any game played in your average bar is eligible for licensed social gambling, so wagers on poker, darts and pool are all acceptable. In fact, sports bars and related venues can even offer small pools on things like NCAA March Madness or the Super Bowl - provided the wagers are limited to $5 and prizes to $500.
Of course, proprietors of non-casino venues aren't free to turn their establishments into Las Vegas lite, so the following casino style games are off limits:
"E. Illegal Social Games.
With the exception of poker, games customarily in a gambling casino for which the house provides a banker, dealer, or croupier or for which specially designed tables are required are illegal social games.
The illegal games include punchboard, pushcard, pulltab, slot machines, craps, chuck-a-luck, roulette, klondike, blackjack, chemin de fer, baccarat, faro, equality, and three-card monte."
When it comes to unlicensed social gambling - or games played amongst friends and family in the privacy of one's home - Iowa law is similarly progressive and permissive:
"A. Private Social Gambling.
Except in instances where the location or circumstance of a game is regulated under Iowa Code chapter 99B, individuals may participate in gambling if a bona fide social relationship exists among the participants.
B. Monetary Consideration.
A participant in an unlicensed social gambling game shall not win nor lose more than $50 in a 24-hour period.
C. Unlawful Wagers.
A wager is unlawful if the wager involves the outcome of an athletic contest or event and the wager is made by a coach, official, player, or contestant of a school, educational institution, or interscholastic athletic organization participating in the contest or event."
Under these private social gambling statutes, players are free to host home poker games and such so long as they maintain a genuine relationship outside of the game. In other words, you can invite your old frat buddies over for a Texas Hold 'em tournament, but not a bunch of strangers solicited through social media.
Other rules about private social gambling limit the stakes to $50 per player, while underground sportsbooks are strictly prohibited.
Finally, the same list of outlawed casino style games applies to private social games, so as long as there are no roulette tables in the kitchen, you should be fine.
Your memory serves you well as the Iowa Senate did indeed vote to authorize online poker back in 2012. Contained within a wider legislative package that sought to relax the casino approval referendum process, the online poker proposal sought to create an "intrastate network" of online poker providers.
Those providers would've been linked with the state's licensed casino operators, similar in fashion to the system currently succeeding in spades in New Jersey.
The bill worked its way through the necessary committees in early 2012, before the full Senate voted 29 to 20 in favor of passage in March of that year. Unfortunately, partisan divides in the House left the bill to languish, and it ultimately died off without ever receiving a vote.
In an interview with PokerNews conducted in 2014, Iowa casino industry lobbyist Matt Eide offered a stark appraisal of the political winds driving online poker passage in the state:
"Although a bill authorizing online poker passed the Iowa Senate in 2011, the Republican controlled House does not want to advance this type of legislation."
In the wake of the House failure, Wes Ehrecke - who serves as President and CEO of the Iowa Gaming Association - offered the following statement in the organization's Gaming Industry Forecast for Casino Enterprise Management:
"No discussion in the 2014 legislative session will take place to allow authorization of online intrastate poker to be played via casino portals.
Rather, the industry will closely watch the introduction of iGaming in New Jersey and Delaware, plus Internet poker in Nevada. This will be an opportunity to learn what is working or not, including their regulations, compacts with other states, etc., and decide on suggested language for a bill to consider in 2015."
That "opportunity to learn" has extended into 2017, however, as the Iowa General Assembly appears to have moved on from the online poker issue. No further efforts have been made to push a similar bill forward, and as of today, Iowa remains stuck in the same legal "grey zone" afflicting 47 states.
That all depends on how you define the word "progress."
The state's first crack at regulating daily fantasy sports (DFS) occurred in 2016, but that effort failed to get off the ground in terms of committee votes.
The General Assembly decided to take another shot in early 2017, introducing a bill known as House File 613, which would classify the games as gambling and not skill-based wagers. This runs counter to the game of skill argument put forth by major operators like DraftKings and FanDuel over the years, but both sites have come out in support of Iowa's bill.
State Senator Jeff Danielson (D-Waterloo) spoke with Iowa City/Cedar Rapids newspaper in February of this year to discuss the impetus for daily fantasy sports (DFS) legislation:
"I'm for freedom, economic opportunity, and I believe fantasy sports are something that Iowans have come to accept. They do it. Most were unaware that it (is) not legal. ... So I'm in favor of legalizing it."
Representative Guy Vander Linden(R-Oskaloosa) also talked to The Gazette to outline the General Assembly's current approach to daily fantasy sports (DFS):
"We've been playing with this for a number of years. We pretty much now all agree that we're going to treat it (as) gambling, first of all.
We're going to treat it like all other gambling. We're going to regulate it through the Racing and Gaming (Commission). We're going to tax it. People get out of line, we will do away with it.
We have gambling in Iowa. (DFS) is just another form."
But in a repeat of last year, the most recent daily fantasy sports (DFS) package was shelved by April.
That means DraftKings and FanDuel remain illegal under current Iowan law, and both sites still restrict access to IP addresses based in the state.
For now, you're out of luck on the daily fantasy sports (DFS) front in Iowa. With that said, the clear interest shown by some members of the General Assembly over the last two years certainly bodes well for future progress down the road.
If you've made it this far through our page, chances are high you'd like to learn all you can about gambling laws in Iowa.
We urge you to continue your studies by taking advantage of the three links below, which direct you to useful resources that provide a clearer picture of the state's thriving gambling industry:
- This link takes you to the Legislative Guide to Gambling in Iowa, an invaluable resource for anybody who wants to know the ins and outs of every law on the books. Originally written in 1967, the Guide has been continually updated ever since.
- The Iowa Gaming Association (IGA) is your one stop shop for all information on the state's gambling industry. This isn't a government organization that will bury you in legal statutes and other paperwork, as the IGA independently represents the gambling industry's interests.
- This brochure includes detailed information on all 19 of Iowa's state licensed casino venues. We covered those in our listings above, but the brochure includes a wealth of additional information on nearby amenities, restaurant options, and driving directions.
The Future and Your Views
When one considers the gambling friendly climate that dominates Iowa, home to no less than 22 land based casinos, the state would seem to be ripe for online gambling reform. Indeed, an online poker bill was approved by the Iowa Senate in 2011, only to be killed off by a Republican controlled House.
Alas, no further progress has been made in the Hawkeye State when it comes to online gambling rights. That can always change, however, as Iowa's referendum based approach to lawmaking ensures that voters wield their share of the power.