Iowa Casinos, Gambling, and Law Regulations: An Overview

The gambling regulations in Iowa are somewhat distinctive. On one side, there exists stringent legislation that clearly delineates what residents are permitted and prohibited to do in relation to gambling pursuits. Contrarily, a broad array of activities are allowed, provided they adhere to these tight parameters. The severity of the penalties is contingent on the total sum wagered in the game, an aspect that sets its legal stance apart within the USA.

While most forms of gambling are regulated to some degree, any gambling activity that is not mentioned in the law books is considered illegal and punishable at the very least as a demeanor. Iowa was the first state to legalize riverboat betting, and also the fourth state to have legalized casinos — after Nevada, New Jersey, and South Dakota. 

This article is an introduction to gambling laws in Iowa. We’ll introduce all the major rules that govern today’s gaming environment in the Hawkeye State, as well as show you what you can and can’t play in the state.

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Gambling Laws in Iowa — The Law Overview 

Under the gambling laws in Iowa, illegal gambling is defined as participating in “a game for anything of value or making any bet.” However, the state allows greyhound and horse racing, as well as gaming on Indian reservations and excursion boat gambling. That said, it may be a bit challenging to distinguish what is covered under state gaming statutes. 

Under Iowa statutes — Iowa Code 99, et seq (Houses Used for Gambling) and Iowa Code 725.5 et seq (Gaming and Betting), several forms of gambling are allowed. These include dog racing, horse racing, excursion boat gambling, social gambling, and gaming on Indian reservations. 

As for activities that are banned, bookmaking, pyramid games, and card counting are deemed illegal. Also, gambling on the state’s land is prohibited, except for Indian reservations. 

Federal laws also have a role in the Iowa regulatory framework. More specifically, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act oversees all gaming activities on Tribal land. 

Iowa Code Chapter 725/Section 725.7 — Gaming and Betting 

The key Iowan laws clearly show what forms of gambling are permitted. The offense under the law in the Hawkeye State is the wager itself, regardless of what you put wagers on. Here is the key excerpt from Iowa Code Chapter 725/Section 725.7: 

“1. Except as permitted in chapters 99B and 99D, a person shall not do any of the following: a. Participate in a game for any sum of money or other property of any value. b. Make any bet. c. For a fee, directly or indirectly, give or accept anything of value to be wagered or to be transmitted or delivered for a wager to be placed within or without the state of Iowa. d. For a fee, deliver anything of value which has been received outside the enclosure of a racetrack licensed under chapter 99D to be placed as wagers in the pari-mutuel pool or other authorized systems of wagering.“ 

Pari-mutuel betting is regulated with section 99B, whereas 99D refers to social and charitable gambling. This is quite a broad definition, compared to other states. In other words, if you participate in a game that is not mentioned within the state laws, your wager will be considered a crime. 

The same chapter of Iowa code highlights different classes of penalties for a variety of gambling activities, based on prior convictions and the amount wagered. Penalties range from a misdemeanor (first offense — less than $100 penalty involved) to various classes of a felony (3rd offense — over $5,000 involved). 

Laws that pertain to social gambling are very complicated when it comes to the amount wagered. The maximum amount of money you can wager on social and most charitable activity in Iowa is $50. Penalties for small games are rare, although not entirely unknown. 

What Forms of Gambling Are Allowed? 

Almost all forms of gambling are legal in Iowa. From charity raffles to social gambling, and from lottery games and bingo to full-blown casino gambling, the state has plenty of options to offer to gamblers of various tastes. Even sports betting was recently legalized, as well as betting on fantasy sports.

Horse and greyhound racing were the first forms of gambling that were legalized in the state. The referendum from 1983 was passed by a landslide, surprising even those who proposed the bill at the grassroots level. The same group also proposed a bill allowing Iowa counties to vote for the legalization of riverboat gambling. In 1989, eight Iowa counties voted Yes for riverboat gaming. At the time, casino-style gambling on boats was the only way to play in the state. Nowadays, riverboat casinos are fading away — there are a few boats anchored in the Mississippi offering casino games. 

Although it may sound surreal, back in the 90s and the early 2000s, voters urged to relax regulations at the county level, which led to the creation of tribal gaming centers and land-based casinos. 

Casinos in Iowa are permitted to host pretty much any game you can find in an Atlantic City or Las Vegas casino — even sports betting. Walk into any Iowa casino, and you’ll have access to slots, table games, video poker, poker, and even bingo games. On top of that, you can also place both OTB and live wagers on greyhound and horse racing in the state’s casinos.

As for social gambling, the Iowa code is quite restrictive. Namely, all players are limited to wins or losses of no more than $50 per session. In fact, you can’t lose more than $50 in any 24 hour period. We’ve looked at numerous state law books regarding gambling in the US, and this is one of the few states that restrict private wins or losses.

Online gambling is not explicitly illegal according to Iowa’s existing laws. Online wagering is not prohibited by Iowan laws, no matter if it’s for sports, poker, casino games, or anything else. Of course, we would advise you against taking this as legal advice. But after going through the Iowa gaming law, we didn’t find a single crime the state could charge someone with if they are caught betting on the web. 

If the state strictly followed the definition of gambling, players who engage in online gambling would be charged with an offense of simple gambling.  

Section 725.1 (1) states that a person cannot ‘’for a fee, directly or indirectly, give or accept anything of value to be wagered…within or without the state of Iowa.’’ This rule can be applied to online wagering. 

If a person is charged with simple gambling, they’d have to pay similar penalties as those of a parking ticket. Even a second offense is classified as a light misdemeanor, with no jail time required. The third offense is also a misdemeanor, but you may have to stand before a judge. By the looks of it, the crime of simple gambling is not severely punished in Iowa — the charges escalate sometimes, but not the penalties for the same charge. 

This shows that the criminal code in Iowa is lax when it comes to gaming offenders. No one has ever been charged for placing a wager online, and it’s unlikely that this would happen. 

Where to Gamble in Iowa? 

You can purchase bingo tickets at numerous lounges and other charitable organizations. Lottery tickets are being sold at virtually any gas station. Commercial gambling is limited to racetracks and casinos. There are over 20 casinos in Iowa, with many of them offering top-notch gaming services. Below, we’ll mention the top choices. 

Grand Falls Casino Resort 

Located at 1415 Grand Falls Blvd, Larchwood, IA 51241, Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort is a first-class gaming destination in Iowa. Offering Vegas-style action, this all-in-one gaming hub is loaded with over 750 gaming options, including table games, slots, and video poker. VIP schemes, recurrent monthly and weekly promotions — you name it. Grand Falls Casino indeed goes the extra mile to provide an elite gaming environment for Iowa residents. 

Catfish Bend Casino 

Although maybe not as lavish as Atlantic City casinos, Catfish Bend Casino is a premier gaming establishment, equipped enough to cater to the needs of every gambler in Iowa. This huge entertainment complex in Burlington is perfectly tailored for families and couples who want to give lady luck a chance. Slots fans will love it here, as there are over 600 slot machines to choose from, including progressives and video poker. The table games portfolio features all the usual suspects, and then some – roulette, Hold’em, blackjack, Mississippi Stud, and much more. 

Ameristar Casino Hotel Council Bluffs 

If you’re in need of a premier destination for gambling, dining and accommodations in Iowa, it doesn’t get much better than the Ameristar Casino Hotel Council Bluffs. Overlooking the Missouri River, this glamorous hotel boasts contemporary rooms, suites, and all sorts of amenities — casino, gym, indoor pool, and sauna, to name but a few.

The slots section is stacked with over 1,500 of the hottest slots, video poker, and video machines. There’s also a sportsbook section where you can place wagers on football, basketball, tennis, golf, and numerous other sports. Much like other top-tier casinos, Ameristar Casino Hotel runs all kinds of promotions — all designed to make your stay in the casino much more rewarding and enjoyable. 


Are casinos legal in Iowa?

Casinos in Iowa are legal only on riverboats and at Indian reservations.  

Is online poker legal in Iowa?

It’s currently illegal for gaming operators to run online poker sites. However, residents of Iowa can play poker at offshore sites.

What games can you gamble on in Iowa?

Iowa State allows greyhound and horse racing, as well as gaming on Indian reservations and excursion boat gambling.

Do Iowa riverboat casinos have casino table games?

Yes, they do. Some of the most popular options offered are blackjack, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, Fusion Roulette, and Shoot to Win Craps. 

What is the legal age for playing in Iowa casinos?

The legal gambling age for all Iowa casinos is 21, and 18 for bingo or pari-mutuel wagering.