Iowa Casinos and Gambling

Iowa may not seem like the most exciting state to live in, but they do have a number of things going for them. First, they’re consistently rated as one of the safest places to live in America. Second, despite their somewhat bland public image, the “Hawkeye State” has long been on the cutting edge when it comes to legalized gambling.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the state of gambling within Iowa. From their basic laws to a list of current Iowa casinos, our intent is to educate both local residents and tourists as to the wealth of possibilities that exist in a land best-known for agriculture and being the birthplace of President Hebert Hoover.

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Iowa Gambling Laws

When it comes to gambling laws, the “Big Five” are considered tribal gaming, commercial casinos, charitable gambling, lottery, and pari-mutuel betting. Some states offer none of these options, while most provide a three or four. If you’re looking to do some gambling in Iowa, you should be glad to know that they allow all five options.

Iowa legalized pari-mutuel betting in 1983, and two years later approved the creation of a state lottery. This got the ball rolling on the state’s interest in gambling, but this was only the beginning.

In 1989, Iowa became the first state to pass legislation allowing riverboat gambling. This form of gaming was meant to take place along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and the first floating casino (The Dubuque Casino Belle) made her maiden voyage in 1991. In the early years, bets were limited to a maximum of $5, and players were prohibited from losing more than $200 during a single session.

In 1992, the first tribal gaming compact was signed in Iowa, allowing for the construction and operation of an Indian casino. Since that time, the state has entered into compacts with two other Native American tribes.

In 2004, the state voted to allow casinos to be taken off the water and instead moored on barges in permanent artificial water basins. This turned riverboat casinos into regular brick-and-mortar establishments for all intents and purposes, and a number of the sites have been making the transition ever since.

Pari-Mutuel Racing in Iowa

Both horse and greyhound racing are available in Iowa, and facilities also offer slots and other games that qualify them as racinos. Even when races aren’t being held, customers can still come in 24 hours a day and take part in the other games of chance.

  • Horseshoe Council Bluffs – This dog racing track also has more than 80 poker and gaming tables, as well as over 1,600 slots and video poker machines.
  • Mystique Casino – This racino holds greyhound and thoroughbred racing, as well as almost 1,000 gaming machines and 23 poker and table games.
  • Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino – The centerpiece of this establishment is a one-mile dirt track where thoroughbred and quarter horse races are held. Fifty-one table and poker games are also available, as well as almost 2,000 slot and video poker machines.

For those who prefer to watch the races in a climate-controlled environment, there’s also the option of off-track betting. Gamblers can watch the races live on a number of monitors, with a betting window just a few steps away. These facilities are available in the following cities:

  • Altoona
  • Bettendorf
  • Burlington
  • Clinton
  • Council Bluffs
  • Davenport
  • Dubuque
  • Emmetsburg
  • Fort Madison
  • Marquette
  • Osceola
  • Riverside
  • Sioux City
  • Iowa Indian Casino

Thanks to the tribal compacts signed between the state and various Native American tribes, Iowa has a few Indian casinos to choose from. As of this writing, the following establishments are in operation:

  • Casino Omaha
  • Meskwaki Bingo Casino & Hotel
  • Terrible’s Lakeside Casino & Resort
  • Winna Vegas Casino
  • Blackbird Bend Casino

As with all other casinos in the state, patrons must be at least 21-years-old to gamble.

Commercial Casinos in Iowa

The majority of Iowa casinos are owned by corporations, with some being considered riverboats and others land-based. Classic games such as slots, video poker, blackjack, roulette, and craps are offered at these sites, as well as more specialized games such as 3 Card Poker, Pai-gow Poker, and Let It Ride. According to a report issued by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, the average payback for gaming machines is between 89 and 92 percent (which include video keno, video poker, and slots).
The following are some of the leading commercial casinos operating within the state of Iowa:

  • Wild Rose Casino
  • Riverside Casino & Golf Resort
  • Rhythm City Casino
  • Mississippi Belle II Riverboat Casino
  • Lady Luck Casino Marquette
  • Isle of Capri Casino Waterloo
  • Horseshoe Casino Council Bluffs
  • Harrah’s Casino & Hotel Council Bluffs
  • Diamond Jo Worth Casino
  • Diamond Jo Casino Dubuque
  • Catfish Bend Riverboat Casino
  • Bluffs Run Casino
  • Ameristar Casino Hotel – Council Bluffs
  • Lakeside Hotel Casino
  • Isle Casino Hotel Bettendorf
  • Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

Owning a Slot Machine in Iowa

According to IA Code 725.9, a resident of Iowa can legally own a slot machine as long as it was manufactured at least 25 years earlier. This qualifies it as an antique and means that it should pose no threat to the modern-day devices offered by state casinos. The machines are only meant to be displayed and operated at home, however, and using them to make a profit is expressly prohibited.

Lottery in Iowa

The first lottery drawing in Iowa took place in 1985, and it’s been going strong ever since. Over 2,500 locations sell lottery, pull-tab, and scratch-off tickets throughout the state, and over $2.2 billion in prize money has been paid out. While most states only require a customer to be 18 in order to buy a lottery ticket, Iowa became the first state to raise the limit to 21.


It might seem like a boring state, but Iowa has a rather progressive view when it comes to gambling. Almost every form of wagering is available, although sports betting is still reserved for places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Online gambling is also frowned upon, although private citizens should be able to indulge in this pursuit without fear of any serious legal consequences.