Sports gambling revenue is just one side of the coin

Iowa and Illinois are taking steps towards the legalization of sports gambling. But critics worry not enough attention is being paid to fighting and funding gam...

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- The Iowa legislature took another step forward on a bill that would legalize sports gambling in Iowa.

On Thursday a full senate committee approved a bill that would create the framework for a sports gaming system in Iowa.

Both Iowa and Illinois are making moves towqards the legalization of sports betting, but critics say it comes at the cost.

Eric Preuss, Program Manager with Iowa's Department of Public Health, says that 14 percent of Iowans are at-risk gamblers according to its 2019 population estimates, meaning about 315,000 Iowans have experienced a sign or symptom of a gambling disorder in the past year.

The number of Iowans who suffer from a gambling disorder has hovered around 1 percent since 2011, Preuss says. The state spend $2.6 million dollars in prevention and treatment of gambling addiction this fiscal year, he says.

Even so, Todd Morris, a Davenport behavioral health professional  who treats gambling addition, says he has seen more patients in the past decade.

He attributes the rise to the ubiquity of gambling opportunities in Iowa and Illinois.

"Most  people associate compulsive gambling with casinos, which a lot of times is not necessarily the case," Morris says. "It could be lottery, it could be scratch-offs, it could be sports betting. The gas stations that have the slot machines."

Still Morris says legalizing sports betting would take it out from under its dark cloak and provide some measure of protection to gamblers.

"What I see for the benefits of legalization would be the casinos would be the ones operating the sports book, which would have some regulations for individuals and be accountable for the people who elect to gamble," he says.

That one reason supporters say they want to regulate sports betting.

"Online sports betting is already established. People are already doing it here online in the Quad Cities," says Illinois State Representative Michael Halpin, adding that he would support it in theory but would have to study the details of any bill put forth.

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker in his budget address says legalization would bring in more than $200 million in fees and taxes in fiscal year 2020.

But a recent ProPublica investigation found that  projected revenues don't always match actual numbers, as the case of video gambling in Illinois shows.

Morris worries that example doesn't bode well for Iowa.

He says he hopes funding to treat gambling addiction will increase, but he is not sure it will.

"I think they’re gonna do a sit and wait approach to see how much money is coming in, to see if what they’re anticipating will actually come in," he says.