Jerry Behn

Behn ‘wrestling’ with sports betting

Senator thinks bill legalizing it will pass in Iowa next session

By DOUGLAS BURNS
d.burns@carrollspaper.com

Veteran state Sen. Jerry Behn, a Boone Republican who represents Greene County, says he’s unsure how he’ll vote on a likely bill to legalize sports betting at casinos in Iowa.

“I’m wrestling on this,” Behn said in an interview with The Jefferson Herald.

He added, “I’m just trying to do the correct thing, but I don’t know what that is.”

Regardless of where he lands with his one vote in the 50-member Iowa Senate, Behn thinks sports betting will be legalized in Iowa.

“My opinion is there is enough support in the Legislature whether I vote for it or not,” Behn said.

A long-time gambling foe with a track record stretching back into the 1990s, Behn said he may wind up voting for the legislation, but won’t lead the fight.

“I’m not a gambling fan,” Behn said. “It appeals to the wrong side of our human nature.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court turned up aces for the casino industry with a ruling killing a decades-old ban in most of the nation on that form of wagering.

Wild Rose Casino and Resort, like other casinos in Iowa, is already hard at work advocating for a plan that would allow for state-regulated sports betting with the existing gaming houses serving as hosts.

Wild Rose President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Timmons supported a bill in the last legislative session (House File 2448) that would have allowed casinos to offer wagering on college and pro sports, and develop online tools connected to their brick-and-mortar facilities. Gamblers would have to come to casinos to set up such accounts, thereby keeping tax and nonprofit dollars flowing through the Iowa economy, under the plan discussed at the state capitol — but not enacted before lawmakers left.

A state legislator from Johnston, Republican state Rep. Jake Highfill, is on record as saying he will introduce a sports-betting bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Behn said he is not convinced that casinos bring real economic development to Iowa.

On the other hand, he said, pulling sports betting out of the shadows into the taxable light of day makes sense.

“I get the arguments,” Behn said. “I’m trying to look at it with an open mind.”

Behn is also questioning whether casinos should have exclusivity with offering sports betting. Bars, restaurants and other venues may be able to benefit from such wagering, he said.

“Why do we just have to have it in casinos?” he said.

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