How Land-Based Casino Ballot Measures Could Shape Sports Betting

How Land-Based Casino Ballot Measures Could Shape Sports Betting article feature image

Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images. Pictured: Nebraska State Capitol Building.

Voters in Nebraska and Virginia overwhelmingly approved ballot measures that will expand casino gaming options in their respective states. This means slots and table games for both, but the 2020 ballot measures could have further-reaching implications for sports betting.

Nebraska Casinos Could Open Door for Sportsbooks

Temporary casinos 2021; full-scale expansion 2022-2023; sportsbooks TBD

Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved the state’s first ever commercial casinos. Now, it's up to local officials to determine what these new facilities can offer — and whether they will include sportsbooks.

The ballot measure allows Nebraska’s six horse tracks to offer “games of chance” at their facilities. This includes slot machines and table games, but the full extent of their offerings is unknown.

“It brings an interesting challenge to the market about how you need to do this,” said Brendan Bussman, director of government affairs for Global Market Advisors, at an industry webinar on Thursday. “It’s about how you craft (the legislation) and showing that there is an appetite for expanded gaming that’s more than just putting slots in a box.”

This extends to sports betting, which is typically considered a “game of skill.” Gaming backers in the state legislature argued daily fantasy games were also “games of skill” in unsuccessful efforts to legalize DFS contests in recent years. It’s hard to imagine how single-game sports wagering doesn’t fall under a similar definition.

Sportsbooks are one of many question marks that will go before Nebraska’s unicameral legislature when lawmakers return for the 2021 session. Despite its voters’ massive support for legal gambling, many state lawmakers have opposed any new gaming form. Any bill could be a difficult endeavor.

Industry stakeholders are hopeful voters’ enthusiasm for gambling in 2020 will cajole otherwise reticent lawmakers in 2021. Additionally, Sen. Ernie Chambers, a longtime gambling opponent that filibustered previous gaming expansion efforts, will leave office due to term limits.

Casino gaming, in some form, is coming to Nebraska. It’s too early to tell if they will include retail sportsbooks at the six new race tracks — casinos (possible), in other parts of the state (doubtful) or online (unlikely any time soon).

Virginia Casinos, Sportsbooks Take Shape

Temporary casinos mid 2021; full-scale launch 2022-2023; sportsbooks early 2021

Virginia lawmakers technically approved the commonwealth’s first five casinos earlier this year. Voters had to approve casinos in their respective cities, but it was clear by Election Night that residents supported casinos gaming in the four jurisdictions that had ballots.

“I really think stakeholders and legislators didn’t expect the overwhelming support for casinos that we saw at the ballot box Tuesday,” FanDuel Government Affairs Director Stacie Stern said at Thursday’s webinar. “That talks to the shifting stands of acceptance of legalized gaming. I think that can only help sports betting as we move forward into 2021.”

The cities of Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth all approved casinos by lopsided margins. A fifth city permitted to hold a casino referendum, Richmond, will hold its referendum as early as next year and is also expected to pass.

The local voter backing comes after the General Assembly legalized sports betting, passing legislation that also allowed each casino to open a retail and digital sportsbook. With the 2020 votes complete, Virginia’s future sports betting market is beginning to take shape:

  • Bristol, Hard Rock: The casino, which will be built near Virginia’s southwestern border with Tennessee will be developed by Hard Rock International. It's safe to say the global gaming giant will use its skins for its flagship Hard Rock sportsbook.
  • Danville, Caesars: The southern Virginia city, just a few miles from the North Carolina border, will be Caesars Entertainment’s newest property. The company will assuredly either use its Caesars sportsbook name or under its recently acquired William Hill brand.
  • Norfolk, Pamunkey Tribe: The first of two Hampton Roads casinos set to open could be the wild card for a new sportsbook. The tribe has fought for a gaming facility for years but first must overcome a legal challenge from Cornish Companies.
  • Portsmouth, Rush Street: The Chicago-based gaming company will open a Virginia casino just across the Elizabeth River from Norfolk. Rush Street will likely brand its Old Dominion sportsbook with either its BetRivers or SugarHouse brand.

The groundbreaking 2020 Virginia gaming legislation allows as many as 12 sports betting licenses, with five of those reserved for the casinos. The remaining licenses will be aggressively pursued by national brands such as DraftKings and FanDuel. MGM, which opened a Maryland casino in 2017 that is a few miles from the Virginia border, also seems positioned to enter the market.

“Will 12 online sports betting licenses be enough in Virginia?” Corridor Consulting CEO John Pappas said Thursday.  “There’s tremendous interest from the industry to be there and I think regulators have some hard decisions as to deciding who is going to be awarded a license.”

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