With only one semi-professional sports team of which to speak (the Arena Football League's Iowa Barnstormers), Iowa is not a strong hub for sports betting. It carries some appeal, due to its rather booming collegiate industry, but this state is more of table and electronic betting locale than anything else. And luckily for Iowa residents, there aren't many impediments standing between them and an opportunity to get their wagering fix in as Iowa's betting laws are straightforward.
Iowa Sports Betting Law
Making bets with a bookie is illegal, as are individual wagers and events that exceed $200. But the latter is tough to monitor, and there are ways around just about everything, other than live-action bookies, thanks to Iowa's absence of policies in certain areas such as online betting and DFS.
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Tribal Casinos or Bust
Casino gambling is illegal in Iowa, so long as the establishment is owned and operated by a tribe. And don't take this to mean you'll have to travel a great distance to find one. There are almost two dozen full-service casinos scattered throughout the state, most of them featuring not only electronic games, but table events as well.
No Specific Laws on Fantasy Sports
Betting on daily fantasy sports isn't technically illegal—emphasis on technically. Though there is nothing on the books that actually outlaws it, fantasy wagering is not sanctioned, either. Further clouding Iowa's stance here is the repeatedly failed attempts to legalize this form of gaming. And it's not like they're even shot down in their entirety. Proposals continue to be rejected or tabled altogether, rather stamped out in a definitive fashion. So, for now, participate in fantasy betting at your own leisure and peril.
Strict Stances on Social Gambling
There's no need to fear holding a weekly poker game or fantasy sports pool among friends while living in the state of Iowa. With that said, anything on a macro scale needs a license. Whether you're raising money for charity or trying to run an online fantasy or championship pool that includes more than one subset of friends or coworkers, some official endorsement is considered necessary. Even office Super Bowl or weekly elimination pools should be subject to licensiing issues.
Most people obviously won't run through legal channels, because the approval process can be a headache. But if you're operating, say, a football pool that sees you trafficking thousands of dollars or more, you may want to consider applying for some sort of license or at least read through Iowa's social gambling laws with more of a fine-tooth comb.
Horse Racing? Yes. Dog Racing? Not so much.
It's no trouble at all to find a horse racing track in Iowa, but the buck stops there on animal-related competitions. Dog racing is specifically listed as illegal, and there are harsh penalties—as, frankly, there should be—for people who participate in betting on animal fights.
Iowa Gambling Law Overview
Please see below for a more specific breakdown of what betting types are and aren't allowed in Iowa at this time.
- Casino Gambling: Not legal (except for Tribal)
- Tribal Gambling: Legal
- Poker: Legal
- Horse-Race Betting: Legal
- Dog-Race Betting: Not legal
- Lottery: Legal
- Daily Fantasy Betting: Not specified
- Social Gambling: Legal (but with plenty of caveats)
- Charitable Gambling: Legal
- Online Gambling: Not specified
Iowa Sports Teams
Please note that due to the absence of professional teams in Iowa, we will split our focus between in-house squads and the most popular professional factions that are located outside state lines.
Iowa State Cyclones (College Basketball)
The college basketball program at Iowa State has always been relatively popular within Iowa, but the Cyclones have gained more national recognition and acclaim over the past few years—due in large part to their play under former head coach Fred Hoiberg.
He led them to the NCAA tournament in four of the five years he was at the helm, and they never once bowed out in the first round—which, for those who aren't privy to the nature of March Madness, is an extremely hard streak to maintain.
Some of this success has persisted without Hoiberg, under his successor Steve Prohm. The Cyclones have earned a tournament bid in each of the past two seasons since Hoiberg left, each time making it out of the opening game, meaning they have now gone six straight years without a 1st-round loss.
Kansas City Chiefs (NFL)
Does it say more about the Kansas City Chiefs or the Chicago Bears that the former is the most popular NFL team in Iowa? It might be an equal mix of both.
The Bears have squandered a lot of goodwill in the post-Brian Urlacher era. They have made just one appearance in the playoffs since 2010, during which time they've cycled through three head coaches and never figured out how to parlay now-former quarterback Jay Cutler into a yearly offensive boon. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have earned a postseason cameo in three of the past four years, which coincides with the start of the Andy Reid era on the sidelines.
They rarely put up gaudy numbers or make highlight plays, but they're consistent. Quarterback Alex Smith is among the best low-mistake game managers in football, and the Chiefs have enjoyed a lot of star power at running back for the past half-decade. Stir all these things together, and it's not hard to see why they would usurp the Bears as Iowa's favorite NFL unit.
Chicago Bulls (NBA)
Fred Hoiberg alert, Part II!
The Chicago Bulls were already Iowa's favorite NBA team, but their ties to the organization grew exponentially, albeit in complicated terms, when Hoiberg left the Cyclones for this gig at the professional level. In many ways, the Bulls are still living off the popularity they gained during the Michael Jordan years, which included six championships.
A healthy Derrick Rose propped them up for a while as well, as did Jimmy Butler's progression from seldom-used reserve to All-NBA player. But the team has since entered a rebuilding period, marked by a fire sale before the 2017 draft, so Iowa's loyalty to the franchise is about to be tested.
Iowa's Biggest Sporting Event of the Year
The Iowa Shrine Bowl is basically an All-Star football game for high school players who are about to leave for college. If nothing else, it's popularity throughout the state proves Iowa's universities really need to step up their commitment to building football powerhouses.
The sport is clearly a fan favorite, and Iowa does a fairly nice job churning out high-end collegiate talent. This game shows that each and every year. That Iowa doesn't, in turn, play host to a truly marquee collegiate football program is more than bizarre.