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Local bettors like proposed legislation

BY JORDAN FRIES | FEBRUARY 09, 2010 7:30 AM

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Riley Schmitt didn't start placing official bets on sporting events until last August, but the UI freshman said he's already hooked on making money illegally.

“I’ve always made little side bets with family and close friends on football games and things like that,” said Schmitt, who claims to have made at least $200 to $300 this year wagering on college football. “But there’s a thrill to having money on these games, and you usually make some cash.”

The New Hampton, Iowa, native said sports gambling on campus isn't unusual. Both know plenty of people who place clandestine bets.

And sports wagering may soon become legal if some state representatives have their way.

A panel of state senators signed off on a bill last week that would allow sports betting in Iowa’s 17 casinos and two greyhound race tracks.

But even if the bill passes, Schmitt may still be out of luck, to a certain extent. The proposal would only permit betting on professional sports, and the Schmitt won't be allowed in Iowa casinos for several more years.

Illicit U.S. gamblers placed at least $385 billion in bets on sporting events in 2009, according to Christiansen Capital Advisors. Around $82 million was brought in legally from 2009 Super Bowl bets — the most profitable one-day betting event of the year worldwide, the group says.

Some officials said they are hoping that would transfer to profit for the cash-strapped state.

“It would most definitely be an increased revenue source,” said Iowa Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg. “And anybody familiar with Las Vegas knows you can bet on just about everything. Iowans are already betting on these sporting events illegally.”

Other officials said they see both the benefits and dangers of sports betting.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said she’s concerned legalizing sports betting would attract more gamblers who aren’t interested in slot machines or blackjack games.

Rep. Doug Struyk, R-Council Bluffs, said the measure would bring an already prevalent issue to light.

“Sports betting would face the scrutiny of the law, and we could better regulate it,” he said.

But before the activity could become legal in Iowa, the federal government would have to lift its ban on sports wagering.

Four U.S. states are exempt from the law: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana.

Schmitt, one of the swarm of locals who flocked to Iowa City sports bars for the Super Bowl on Sunday, said he would welcome the opportunity to satisfy his gambling jones without having to make “under-the-table” deals.

“I have to go through so many people just to place a single bet with a bookie I’ve never even met,” he said. “This bill would make sports betting a lot easier.”


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