Lawmaker launches conversation about cutting Iowa casino taxes

DES MOINES — A bill under consideration in the Iowa House would lower the state tax rate for Iowa’s state-licensed casinos to be at or near the tax rate for casinos in Nebraska and Missouri. Illinois casinos have variable tax rates, based on the size of the market and the games offered.

Mark Joyce, a lobbyist for the company that operates the Diamond Jo casinos in Northwood and Dubuque, said lowering taxes would be a welcome move. “It’s a very mature industry in Iowa and the newer casinos in surrounding states, in particular in Nebraska, are going to be brand new,” Joyce said. “They’re going to be taxed at 20% so for us to be able to have extra capital to put back in the properties and better compete for your business, that’s why.”

Lobbyist Doug Struyk represents the Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington, which he said is facing competition from new casinos in Illinois. Struyk also represents Caesars Entertainment which owns the Horseshoe and Harrah’s casinos in Council Bluffs that soon will be competing with a new casino in Omaha. “Tremendous amount of pressures on the industry, so we appreciate you taking a look at this,” Stryk said during a House subcommittee hearing Monday.

Gaming revenue from the three Council Bluffs casinos began to dip when the WarHorse Casino in Lincoln opened in September of 2022 and Harrah’s opened in Columbus, Nebraska in June of last year. Struyk said that has slowed the flow of gamblers from Nebraska into Iowa. “So it will to take additional investment in the facilities in Iowa to continue to be bright, shining new attractions to keep people wanting to come over and utilize the Iowa facilities instead of the Nebraska facilities,” Struyk said.

Another WarHorse Casino is expected to open in Omaha by August of this year. Representative Jane Bloomingdale is sponsoring the bill to gradually lower Iowa’s casino taxes over a three year period. She’s from Northwood. The state-licensed Diamond Jo casino is nearby.

“We’re lowering taxes for individuals, we’re lowering taxes for corporations, but we’re not lowering taxes for casinos. It just doesn’t seem fair,” Bloomingdale said. “If we’re going to lower taxes for everyone across the state of Iowa, we maybe need to look at everyone.”

Bloomingdale’s bill has cleared a House subcommittee, but one member of the panel said she’s concerned cutting casino taxes will lower the amount of money deposited in the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund. Money from the fund is used on a variety of projects, from lake dredging to constructing or repairing state-owned buildings.