Nebraska sports betting received a nod of approval from the state’s legislators Thursday.
The unicameral legislature passed LB 561 with an emergency clause, 44-3. The gaming expansion bill that includes retail sports betting in Nebraska now awaits the signature of Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Voters approved the expansion into casino gaming at the state’s race tracks in 2020. Ricketts has opposed casino gaming in the past but is not expected to go against the voters’ wishes. He has until June 2 to sign or veto the bill.
Nebraska sports betting journey
Legislators created a comprehensive gaming bill in March by merging LB 560 into LB 561. The package includes a constitutional amendment to allow casino gaming at the state’s six commercial horse racing tracks, regulatory laws and tax practices.
Sen. Tom Briese sponsored LB 561. Normally an opponent of gaming, Briese said he was delivering the will of the people.
“That mandate is they want casinos at racetracks, and the property tax relief they will provide. In doing so, they approved all games of chance, including sports betting and other such games, as a matter of law,” Briese said. “I introduced LB 561 to clarify what the voters approved, and provide some parameters that are both consistent with what the voters mandated and consistent with Nebraska values.”
No in-state college sports betting
An amendment adopted on May 13 prohibits in-state college sports betting in Nebraska. That move was seemingly made to ensure the two-thirds vote needed for a bill modifying a petition initiative.
Senators did not adopt a similar amendment earlier in the session.
Proponents of the ban believe betting on in-state teams poses a negative impact on student-athletes. Opponents say the bets go elsewhere, either illegally or in neighboring states like Iowa.
“We’re pretending like this isn’t occurring,” Sen. Adam Morfeld said. “It’s literally puritanical nonsense.”
Some experts suggest in-state bans could limit a market by up to 15%, a believable claim in a big college football state like Nebraska. Other experts question the legality of such bans.
What betting will look like
Voters approved a “games of chance” expansion at the tracks. The ballot question did not include sports betting, but legislation limits sports betting to designated areas at the casinos.
Nebraska will levy a 20% tax on casino revenue, including sports betting. A legislative fiscal note estimates the six casinos can generate up to $245.3 million annually in the coming years.
A newly established State Racing and Gaming Commission will create more regulations on sports betting. Limiting bets to retail sportsbooks will hamper potential sports betting revenue opportunities for the state.
Neighboring states in sports betting
Along with Iowa, Colorado sports betting launched in 2020. This year, a rush of states near Nebraska considered sports betting legislation.
South Dakota sports betting will likely launch in retail sportsbooks in the city of Deadwood later this year, while Wyoming sports betting was legalized this year.
Efforts in Kansas and Missouri, however, appear stalled out this session.
Nebraska Sen. Justin Wayne was a proponent during the legislative journey to keep tax dollars in the Cornhusker state. In 2020, he specifically mentioned Omaha residents crossing into Iowa.
“The fact of the matter is, Nebraskans are already doing this,” Wayne said. “Gambling happens. Sports betting happens.”