DES MOINES — Iowa casinos are on track to have their most-profitable year ever, with officials crediting “pent-up” post-pandemic demand among Iowans eager to spend money at entertainment venues as a key factor in the fiscal 2021 revenue surge.
Also, while sports betting slowed somewhat in May, the month’s wagering handle still came in at nearly $114.9 million.
It was enough to push year-to-date gambling action in Iowa above $1.1 billion, with another month until the books close June 30, according to numbers issued Thursday by the state Racing and Gaming Commission.
Overall, Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos posted adjusted gross revenue of nearly $1.434 billion through May — an 11-month figure that topped last year’s figures by about 36%. Casinos were shuttered for 11 weeks early in the pandemic during fiscal year 2020.
“Short of anything unexpected that might happen in this month of June, it does appear that we’re on pace to have the highest year since gaming started in the state. We had another very, very good month in May,” said Brian Ohorilko, administrator of the state Racing and Gaming Commission.
Iowa’s casino gambling industry posted a record of nearly $1.47 billion in gross adjusted revenue in fiscal year 2012.
Before a pandemic-riddled fiscal 2020 season that saw numbers cut by 20%, Iowa’s 19 state-licensed casinos took in nearly $1.457 billion in fiscal 2019 and nearly $1.464 billion the year before that.
Ohorilko said current year numbers are up about 7% compared to fiscal 2019 with a month yet to go, with several properties posting drastically higher, record numbers.
“That’s a very encouraging trend,” said Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, an umbrella group for the state-licensed casinos, in discussing this year’s financial rebound. “We’re quickly getting back to normal.”
Admissions began to rebound in May, but year-to-date numbers still are down significantly, with 14,914,973 patrons going through casino turnstiles.
State tax receipts from the increased gambling activity stayed strong in May at more than $32.5 million, bringing the fiscal-year-to-date total to nearly $286 million.
Sports betting, an activity that became legal in Iowa in August 2019, continued to see strong activity in May, with wagering again topping $100 million, Ohorilko said. The numbers dropped from the peaks in January, February and March — heavy sports betting months — as industry experts expected.
“There is no avoiding a summer slowdown, but Iowa’s sportsbooks are in a remarkably better position than this time last year when there was still so much uncertainty,” said Jessica Welman, analyst for PlayIA.com.
“Sportsbooks will continue to be innovative this summer in an effort to keep bettors engaged with the remaining NBA season, baseball, and other sports, including the Olympics,” she said. “Contrast that to last summer when most were in survival mode.”
Last month’s betting handle was down 2.9% from the $118.4 million in bets generated in April, and well short of the record $161.4 million in wagers in March. Betting fell to $3.7 million per day over the 31 days in May from $3.9 million over the 30 days in April.
“Iowa is more driven by college athletics than the majority of the largest markets in the U.S., so the end of college basketball season was bound to have an outsized effect,” said Dustin Gouker, analyst for PlayIA.com.
Net operator revenue reached $6.1 million in May, down from $7.7 million in April, with an overall $81.54 million total for the fiscal year. State tax revenue for May was $414,175, bringing the year-to-date total to more than $5.5 million, according to commission data.
From July 2020 through May, Iowa gamblers wagered more than $1.1 billion, with a $1.026 billion payout. Between 85% and 90% of the bets were placed online, to the tune of nearly $890 million (nearly $100 million in May alone), while $217 million in bets were placed in person at casinos.
Ehrecke said casino operators did not know what to expect when sports wagering was legalized, so topping $1.1 billion so far this fiscal year was “a bit of a surprise” but still “a great surprise to have.”
Currently, 12 sportsbooks have been licensed to conduct wagering in Iowa, with another 14 in the application process, Ohorilko said Thursday.