Iowa Table Game Bill Passes Senate Committee

An Iowa Senate committee Tuesday cleared a bill that would allow table games such as poker and blackjack at the state's racetracks.

Despite its overwhelming passage, it could be weeks before the full Senate debates the bill because lawmakers are awaiting a settlement involving the state's tax rate for riverboat casinos.

The House last month passed a bill that would allow Iowa racetracks to add table games, but it would retain a moratorium on new riverboat casinos.

The bill was proposed as lawmakers work toward a tentative settlement to a lawsuit in which racetracks challenged the state's casino tax structure -- and won.

The state wound up owing the racetracks as much as $165 million in overpaid taxes. House lawmakers struck a deal, approving the addition of table games at racetrack casinos if the racetracks forgave the debt.

Some Senate lawmakers have promised to amend the bill to lift that moratorium, but the bill sailed through committee Tuesday without amendment, the Associated Press reports.

Lawmakers have been hesitant to tinker with the House bill while the tax issue is still pending.

Sen. John Kibbie voted against the bill, saying changes need to be made in committee, not when the bill is delivered for debate.

"The committee's purpose around here has always been to fix and perfect bills and take public comment," he said. "One of the important functions of the Legislature is the process, and the process is not being followed."

Senate Republicans want to get the bill through the committee process, including the Ways and Means Committee today, to allow the entire Senate to tackle the issues, said committee Chairman Sen. Mark Zieman, R-Postville.

"This is a big enough issue that I don't know if the committee can make the decision for everybody else," he said. "Everybody is going to get their say on the floor."

Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson, R-Dows, said he wants the racetracks to sign the settlement before the Senate debates the bill.

"If we don't have a signed contract, anybody can change their mind," he said.