Nebraska Gaming Moves Toward Legalization; Could Sportsbooks Be Next?

Written By Derek Helling on July 7, 2020 - Last Updated on July 27, 2021

A group of gambling supporters in Nebraska says it has achieved its objective. If that’s true, it could prove to be a stepping stone to future sportsbooks in the Cornhusker State.

If NE Secretary of State John Gale certifies the petitions by the group Keep the Money in Nebraska, voters will see three measures to legalize casino gaming on their ballots this fall.

However, there’s no guarantee that voters will approve any of the three.

Mission accomplished

According to a representative from Keep the Money in Nebraska, the three petitions garnered a total of 477,000 signatures from registered NE voters. State law imposed a deadline of July 2 for collection.

The group will now await Gale’s verification of each petition. Pending his certification, NE voters could see up to three measures to amend the state constitution in November.

The measures wouldn’t directly set up the full complement of necessary regulations for slots and table games at brick-and-mortar facilities. Rather, they would create the necessary oversight in Lincoln.

The ballot initiatives would define a few parameters, however. For example, casino gambling would be confined to the state’s six racetracks. Additionally, three-fourths of the tax revenue would go to offset property taxes.

Outside of those few conditions, the bulk of the regulatory framework would be up to NE’s unicameral legislature and Gov. Pete Ricketts. That’s where the staunchest opposition may lie.

Ricketts, precedent present obstacles for measures

Nearly two decades ago, another group was similarly successful in getting approval for casinos on the ballot in NE. Voters defeated that measure in 2004.

Ricketts has publicly opposed any expansion of legal gambling in NE.  Should Gale place any of the proposals on the ballot, Ricketts could be the face of a campaign to re-enact the results of the 2004 vote.

If Nebraska gambling supporters prove more effective in their advocacy, Ricketts’ resistance could expand beyond the ratification of the new amendments. For example, he might threaten to veto regulatory bills.

That could effectively delay the actual construction and licensure of casinos in NE. Ricketts’ resistance to gambling expansion could delay the possible launch of sportsbooks in NE even further.

In the meantime, Nebraska bettors can enjoy legal Iowa sports betting in the Hawkeye State.

Tricky situation for legal sports betting in NE

Depending on the interpretation of any amendment voters ratify this fall, such a measure could give the state government leave to authorize sportsbooks as well. However, that itself could become the subject of debate, as none of Keep the Money in Nebraska’s proposals explicitly includes sports betting.

Ricketts and others who oppose gambling expansion might see that as pushing the envelope too far. The best strategy could be to wait for sports betting bills in Lincoln.

Ricketts’ second term ends in 2023, and he is ineligible for any further terms. Those who wish to see legal wagering on sporting events in NE could be better off attempting to get a replacement more friendly to their cause elected.

While that could mean a delay of several years for legal sports betting in Nebraska, the old moniker of “better late than never” applies. Right now, sportsbooks are a secondary concern.

If Gale certifies the petitions, the campaigns to sway voters begin. Whether Nebraskans vote to approve casino gaming may ultimately rest on which side is more effective in its messaging.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. 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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