Fanduel sportsbook opens near Minnesota border; I-35 will be 'awfully busy'

Operators of a new Fanduel sportsbook in northern Iowa expect so much of their business to come from the Twin Cities that they didn't choose an Iowa sports star to place the ceremonial first bet Thursday.

Instead, they got former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman John Randle.

"I think I-35W is going to be an awfully busy road," Randle said after placing a $93 bet -- his jersey number -- on the Minnesota Twins to win their afternoon game. "There are going to be a lot of people making the trip."

Betting on sports became legal in Iowa on Aug. 15, the first Midwestern state to allow it after U.S. Supreme Court decision let states make the choice. Indiana and Illinois have since followed suit.

But Minnesota has made no moves toward allowing betting on sports. The state's Native American tribes, which operate casinos, oppose sportsbooks.

The Fanduel sportsbook takes up a small corner of the Diamond Jo Casino near Northwood, Iowa. The casino's general manager said the 90-minute to two-hour drive from the Twin Cities makes it a likely destination for sports fans, in addition to southern Minnesota residents who have been coming to the Diamond Jo for years.

"We're located at the Iowa-Minnesota border, right on the interstate, so it's easy," General Manager Scott Smith said. "We fully expect to see an increase of people through our doors."

Smith said the sportsbook has added 30 new jobs to the 425-person workforce already at the casino. The impact of sports betting to the casino’s bottom line is yet to be determined, but slots and table games will remain the top revenue games, Smith said.

For now, people must physically be in an Iowa casino to place bets. Even once app-based betting starts in the future, state law requires the bettor to be inside Iowa's borders.

Michael Grimley of Austin, Minnesota, watched Thursday's ceremony from the casino floor. Grimley said he planned to visit the Diamond Jo at least once a week to bet on sports. He placed several bets Thursday, including on the Vikings to win Super Bowl 54.

"I have friends right now that are jealous of me that I'm down here," Grimley said. "So I imagine with the weekend coming, the NFL season coming, it's going to be huge down here.”

Grimley said he wished Minnesota lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz would legalize betting on sports.

But such an idea has long odds. In the 2019 legislative session, a sports betting bill got only a limited hearing and did not advance past the committee level.

The Minnesota Indian Gaming Association and its 11 member tribes say app-based betting will open the door to full-scale internet gambling, which they say will lead to the demise of brick-and-mortar casinos.

If sports betting is only allowed inside casinos, the tribes say the expenses of operating a sportsbook will exceed revenue.

Nevertheless, Walz told FOX 9 this week that Minnesota lawmakers should keep discussing it.

"I am certainly open to it," Walz said. "Put the structures in place. We've had legalized gambling in Minnesota for some time. I think there's a way we could structure it to keep true to our tribal commitments."