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Iowa State football players and wrestler won’t be prosecuted in gambling probe, and a state official is disappointed

DES MOINES - Four Iowa State athletes caught up in a gambling sting are having charges against them dropped, and a top Iowa Department of Public Safety official is disappointed in the outcome.

DES MOINES – Four Iowa State athletes caught up in a gambling sting are having charges against them dropped, and a top Iowa Department of Public Safety official is disappointed in the outcome.

STATEMENT FROM DPS COMMISSIONER STEPHAN BAYENS: SPORTS WAGERING INVESTIGATION:

The decision by the Story County Attorney’s Office to discontinue prosecution of these four cases is disappointing. Despite their decision, they repeatedly shared with us their belief that the Division of Criminal Investigation’s actions were legal.

In 2019, sports betting became legal in Iowa. The sports gambling industry is closely regulated and with that comes significant oversight. Once sports betting became legal on digital devices, Iowa law required sportsbooks to geo-locate players when placing wagers and to notify accountholders about information being gathered and shared.

To comply with Iowa law, sportsbooks contracted with GeoComply to facilitate geo-location and provide analytical software that allows aggregate data to be filtered. As a state gambling licensee, the company provided the state access to these tools to regulate the industry and enforce Iowa law. GeoComply specifically trained DCI agents on how to use the software and participated in ongoing meetings regarding its use. Agents were trained to review anonymized data points across Iowa for anomalies that called into question regulatory compliance or suggested criminal activity.

During a review of anonymous data points, anomalies were observed at athletic facilities that only individuals associated with NCAA-sanctioned sports teams had access. This was concerning because sportsbooks must seek to prohibit sports wagering by coaches, athletic trainers and players as required by Iowa law. Also, individuals with access to these facilities would possess insider information, could impact outcomes, and tended to be underage.

Given these red flags, agents obtained subpoenas seeking the names on the accounts affiliated with those data points. When the information was received, it became evident that many account holders lacked any real connection to the places flagged by the data, strongly suggesting fraudulent activity or identity theft. The Department investigated only these accounts.

Throughout the investigation, agents conferred with legal experts. Agents ultimately applied for search warrants to seize the digital devices controlling those accounts which were approved by impartial judges. At the conclusion of the investigation, the Department’s findings were presented to prosecutors who then made charging decisions.

The investigation uncovered concerns of a seismic magnitude within Iowa’s sports gambling industry. In 2023 alone, $2.4 billion dollars in sports bets were placed in the state with 91% of those being placed online. Existing guardrails were insufficient to deter the creation of fraudulent accounts, gambling by prohibited persons, or identity theft.

In the eleven months preceding this investigation, sportsbooks in Iowa closed 28,554 sports betting accounts. In the eleven months since the investigation, they closed 82,559 accounts.

I understand why this investigation and the resulting charges have generated so much attention and such strong opinions. We love our college sports here in Iowa, myself included. Had this situation not involved college athletes, the public perception may have been entirely different.

As law enforcement officers, we take an oath to uphold the law and we do so without exception, even when it’s difficult. Throughout the investigation and subsequent prosecution, we continually reviewed our actions and I fully stand behind the investigation and the agents who did the work. I want to thank them and their families for their service to Iowa.

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