Iowa-Iowa State Captivates Bettors as Mobile Gains Steam
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ALTOONA, Iowa – Thirty days ago, the first legal sports wager at Iowa’s busiest casino was placed on Iowa State (-4.5) to beat Iowa. By the time the game kicked off Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, the line had changed drastically but the enthusiasm for sports gambling in Iowa had not.
Iowa went off as a consensus 1.5-point favorite as bettors lined up at Prairie Meadows, the Des Moines-area casino 38 miles south of Ames. The crowd in the sportsbook Saturday afternoon wasn’t nearly as large as it was on opening day Aug. 15, but Prairie Meadows officials said the action leading up to the game has been steady.
According to William Hill US, the CyHawk Showdown led all other college football games in action, taking 19% of total dollars and 18% of total tickets.
The Hawkeyes failed to cover, prevailing over the Cyclones, 18-17, in a game delayed a combined 2 hours and 55 minutes by rain and lightning. Under bettors cashed as the total closed at 42.5.
“We’re constantly busy,” Aaron Eberhart, Prairie Meadows sportsbook manager, told Bookies.com shortly before Saturday’s kickoff. “It’s a never-ending line of people coming in -- all day, every day. It’s very positive the way that people have accepted sports gambling. It’s like they’ve been doing it a long time, even though it’s new to Iowa. It’s been an extremely positive reaction, a great experience so far.”
William Hill Mobile App In Demand
The sportsbook was full Saturday afternoon but not crowded as the game began. That’s due in part to the William Hill US mobile app, which allows gamblers to place wagers away from casinos from their mobile devices while inside the state's boundaries.
The demand for the app has presented the bulk of the work for Prairie Meadows sportsbook employees and William Hill representatives on hand to assist customers with the app, Eberhart said.
“The biggest challenge for our staff is getting everybody signed up for the mobile app, which has been very popular,” Eberhart said. “The sheer number of people signing up has been almost overwhelming.”
In the minutes leading up to the game, the line for assistance with the mobile app was down to a handful of customers. The line to reach the four betting windows varied from five to 20 at times -- but nothing like the lines Eberhart’s 12-person crew experienced in mid-August.
“The first week was absolutely crazy,” Eberhart said. “It’s been steady ever since. It hasn’t quite been as busy as it was the first week after we opened, but it’s been a steady line of people here from before we open to the time we close at night. It’s been non-stop for us.”
Strong Opening to Iowa Sports Betting
During the first 17 days of legal sports gambling in Iowa, the state’s 13 sportsbooks took in a handle of $8.5 million, with $2.2 million in profits, the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission reported. Prairie Meadows led the way with a $3.4 million handle and more than $530,000 in profit.
Eberhart said William Hill, which also operates sportsbooks at Isle casinos in Waterloo and Bettendorf and Lakeside Casino in Osceola, will send its customer reps back to its headquarters in Las Vegas soon.
“They’ve been a great deal of help,” Eberhart said. “This is all new to everyone here in Iowa, so when we have experienced supervisors and writers here, we’re able to lean on them to show us how to do things.”
About the Author
Jeff Olson is a freelance sportswriter based in St. Augustine, Fla., with more than 35 years of experience as a professional journalist. His first 20 years were spent covering college football, basketball and motorsports for The Des Moines Register. In 2003, he relocated to Indianapolis, where he covered motorsports for RACER magazine, Autosport and USA TODAY, among others. In May 2019, he covered the Indianapolis 500 for the 25th time.