Nebraska Sports Betting Bill Gets Past Round One

Nebraska On US Map

Lawmakers advanced the Nebraska sports betting bill on Wednesday, with state senators approving legislative Bill 561 by a vote of 37-5.

The measure would regulate sports betting and casino gambling in the Cornhusker State. Under the bill, the Nebraska Gaming Commission, which will merge with the State Racing Commission, will be created to undertake that task.

A Clear Mandate

Bill author Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said that he is personally opposed to legalizing Nebraska sports betting and casino gambling. However, he argued that lawmakers received a clear mandate from the people who voted to approved the constitutional amendment. Briese says they need to pass the bill to give guidance to the industry in Nebraska.

LB 561 includes three ballot measures approved by Nebraska voters during last November’s election: Casino gambling would be allowed at the state’s six licensed horse tracks, sports betting would only be allowed in the casinos, and prohibiting betting on high school events, minor leagues, and other sporting events involving athletes under 18 years old. The bill will now move to the second round of consideration. It needs two more votes before heading to the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Some Provisions of LB 561

The legislative bill prohibits patrons from using credit cards in casinos and also includes a voluntary ban on risk-gamblers. The age requirement for horse racing betting patrons was raised to 21 to match that of Nebraska sports betting and casino players. The measure also prevents prop bets on individual performances by athletes from Nebraska.

Purchase of keno tickets from a mobile device or the use of electronic tickets would be authorized at keno operators by persons 19 or older. This change was designed to help protect a revenue stream that currently is the source of funds for community improvement projects.

Ho-Chunk, Inc Launches New Gaming Division For Nebraska Racetrack Casinos

Closeup of Person Counting Money With a Casino Background
The economic development unit of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska has announced the launching of WarHorse Gaming LLC to operate and manage the three Nebraska casinos it plans to open next year.

Said WarHorse Gaming executive director Brian Chamberlain:

“This is an exciting time for Nebraskans. Our team is working tirelessly to bring first-class gaming and entertainment to the state. Though there is still a great deal of work to be done, we’re excited for the chance to bring a new industry to the state, and with it, an entirely new source of tax revenue and career opportunities.”

Added NHBPA executive vice president Lynne McNally:

“We are thrilled to partner with a world-class organization like Ho-Chunk, Inc. It’s been a very long process getting to this point, with a lot more yet to do, but we’re very much looking forward to what this will do for Nebraska.”

Partnership with NHBPA

Ho-Chunk, Inc. says that WarHorse Gaming will partner with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) for the planning and development of Nebraska casinos at the three state-licensed horseracing tracks in Omaha, Lincoln, and South Sioux City.

Under the agreement, WarHorse will be responsible for the overall gaming operations in the three Nebraska casinos while the NHBPA will continue to be the overseer of all horse racing events at the tracks. WarHorse management anticipates that expanded gaming will be available in the latter part of 2021 with full casino operations commencing in 2022.

Nebraska Initiative 430

The Plans are taking shape now after 65.01% of voters approved Nebraska Initiative 430 or the Authorizing Gambling at Racetracks Initiative which was on the ballot in Nebraska as an initiated state status on November 3, 2020. At the time of election, the only form of gaming allowed in Nebraska were the state lottery, licensed raffles, and bingo.

Initiative 430 authorizes gambling at licensed racetracks with licensed gaming operators. The Initiative established the Nevada Gaming Commission to enact the rules to license gaming operators and regulate the state’s gambling industry. Under the measure, anyone under the age of 21 is prohibited from playing on gambling devices or participate in gambing at the racetracks.

Ho-Chunk Ready To Build Three Casinos After Nebraska Approval

Split Image of Four Casino Games
With Nebraska voters solidly approving Las Vegas-style gambling at the state’s horse tracks during Tuesday’s election, Ho-Chunk Inc. says it is ready to spend $300M to build three casinos at horse tracks in South Sioux City, Omaha, and Lincoln.

Ho-Chunk, which bought Atokad Park at South Sioux City in 2016, joined forces with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protection Association to collect enough signatures to place the measures in the ballot of Tuesday’s US Elections. They were successful this time around, after failing to do so two years ago. The horsemen’s group will partner with WarHorse in managing the proposed Nebraska casinos.

Said Mike Newin, CEO and GM of Horseman’s Park Lincoln Race track:

“The casinos are going to employ over 4600 people, but we can’t turn a slot machine on or take a sports wager of playing a blackjack game until the gaming commission is established and regulations are ready to go.”

Finalizing the details and passing the legislation will take some time. But that’s just formality. Getting the approval was the biggest hurdle. And it passed that with flying colors.

65% Approval

65% of voters said YES to three ballot initiatives that would amend Nebraska’s constitution to allow casinos as the state’s six licensed horse tracks, with some the revenues to be collected from the casinos going to property tax relief and local governments.

Proponents of the measures have long argued that Nebraskans cross the state border to gamble at casinos in Iowa and other nearby states, and spend over $500M in doing so. By allowing Nebraska casinos at the state’s race tracks, that revenue can be captured and its benefits enjoyed by the state.

But Gov. Pete Ricketts, former Nebraska Football team coach Tom Osborne, and other opponents of the initiative warned that the approval of Nebraska casinos would lead to more bankruptcies, crime, and other social ills that are associated with gambling addiction.

Ready to Move Forward

Ho-Chunk Inc, which is the economic entity of the Winnebago Tribe, revealed that they have already formed a new group called WarHorse Gaming LLC, which will manage the proposed casinos. According to Ho-Chunk CEO Lance Morgan, WarHorse was just formed this week.

If all goes well, Morgan said that construction will commence next spring. The tracks in Lincoln and Omaha already have facilities and could start gaming after six months. On the other hand, Morgan estimates that it would take around nine months to build a Nebraska casino is Atokad, which only has a race track right now.

Additional live racing dates will be added at the race tracks as part of the expanded gambling plan. In recent years, Ho-Chunk held just one date of live racing at Atokad which is the minimum to retain a state license. However, with the expected boom in gambling which will be brought about by the Nebraska casinos, they are expanding the schedule.