Nebraska Cities Push For Mobile Keno In Order To Compete With Casinos

Posted By Derek Helling on April 12, 2021

If online casinos, poker and sports betting become legal in Nebraska someday, mobile keno could be the forerunner of online gaming.

Multiple Nebraska jurisdictions are pressing the state legislature to allow Nebraskans to play keno online. Proponents of the change argue that they need to be able to offer it to maintain the game’s popularity.

As with any other gambling measure in Nebraska; however, the path forward is daunting.

Why the push for mobile keno options?

Currently, businesses with licenses to sell alcohol can also acquire keno licenses. Those business owners pay a local tax on that revenue. Cities use that tax revenue to pay off debt and supplement budgets.

However, Nebraska law limits how people can access keno games.

In the status quo, patrons have to fill out physical game cards and turn them into the business aka game operator. Although platforms for online keno games exist, Nebraska businesses risk revocations of licenses if they use them.

Leaders from several Nebraska cities want to change that.

All of them get annual tax revenues from keno games. For example, Bellevue City Finance Director Richard Severson said keno taxes produced $7.5 million in city revenue over the past decade.

Those municipal leaders argued that with casinos opening in the state, businesses need the mobile option to keep the game relevant. They fear players will opt to take their business to the casinos instead, which only pay state taxes.

The push is to include the keno expansion in a larger package of gambling regulations currently under consideration. Whether that happens is mostly at the mercy of anti-gambling advocates who have seen a lot of success in the state.

Resistance is narrowly focused

For the most part, there is only one adversarial concern. Opponents of this move question whether allowing a mobile option would increase vulnerability for those with compulsive gambling issues.

There’s little debate over whether Nebraska cities get legitimate revenue from keno. Critics also don’t seem to dispute whether game operators could ensure that the games are only taking place in approved venues. The resistance is all about the perception that online gambling increases addiction risks.

Some Nebraska lawmakers did question whether casinos would pull customers from keno games. Additionally, there were a few comments about whether such a provision would supersede the legislature’s authority.

Thus, city leaders know what obstacle they will have to overcome to get what they want. It’s a powerful interest in the state, though. For decades, it effectively blocked the legalization of casinos in Nebraska.

Even amidst the success of that measure last year, many prominent Nebraskans lobbied hard in this exact vein.

If this measure is part of the new gambling regulations, it could signal a further loss of influence for this interest. That would bode well for the future of online gambling in Nebraska.

It would also mean that for the first time, gambling over the internet would be legal in Nebraska, albeit in a limited fashion.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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