Nebraska Sports Betting and Casino Bill Signed into Law

Nebraska Sports Betting and Casino Bill Signed into Law article feature image
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Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images. Pictured: Scott Frost

Nebraska sports betting is now legal after Gov. Pete Ricketts signed the state’s first-ever commercial casino gaming bill into law earlier this week.

Nebraska’s gaming bill only permits retail sportsbooks at pari-mutuel race tracks, which can also offer “Las Vegas-style” casino gaming under the legislation. The bill prohibits bets on college games featuring in-state programs played in the state. That means bettors won’t be able to wager on the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team games when they play at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln or the Creighton Blue Jays when they play in Omaha.

State gaming facilities will likely partner with third-party operators for their brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. All sportsbooks are subject to further regulatory review under a new gaming commission created under the bill.

Legal betting could begin in the second half of 2021 or early 2022, but there’s no firm timeline at this point. Still, the prospect of any legal Nebraska sportsbooks seemed unlikely even a year ago.

Nebraska Sports Betting Background

Lawmakers had fought against gaming expansions for decades, including prior voter-initiated ballot measures to amend the state constitution. A 2020 effort garnered enough signatures to land on the ballot and Nebraska voters last year overwhelmingly backed the referendum permitting casino gambling at state horse tracks.

Elected officials then had to pass the follow-up regulatory bill. Though the referendum didn’t explicitly allow or deny sportsbooks, lawmakers decided to include retail sports betting in the legislation and excluding statewide mobile sportsbooks, real money poker sites or online casino games.

Many lawmakers said they personally opposed gambling during the legislation’s debate but felt compelled to follow voters’ will after their strong support for the ballot measure.

The college betting ban was one of the bill’s most controversial decisions. After initially rejecting the in-state wagering restrictions the bills’ sponsors agreed to support the amendment to assure passage of the larger legislative package.

Impact Could Be Minimal Beyond Iowa

The state’s ban on online sports betting, which makes up 80 percent or more of all bets placed in most states, and its small population means it will be one of the lesser U.S. markets by handle. The college betting restrictions could further hurt revenue potential in a state where the Cornhuskers are its most popular team.

These prohibitions are surely appreciated by sportsbooks in neighboring Iowa.

Nebraska splits the Omaha metro area, far and away its largest population center, with Iowa, which legalized commercial casino gambling nearly 30 years ago. Iowa was also among the first states to approve online sportsbooks and continues to draw Nebraskans for both digital sports bets and its brick-and-mortar casinos just across the Nebraska border.

Even if sports betting is approved to launch this fall, Nebraskans expecting a chance to bet on the Cornhuskers at the new in-state sportsbooks won’t be able to do so for the team’s home opener against Fordham Sept. 4.

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