For the past few years, Nebraskans looking to bet on their beloved Huskers needed to cross over to Iowa. But that may change soon, pending recently introduced legislation.
Nebraska Sen. Eliot Bostar introduced Legislative Bill 168 on Jan. 9. Should it jump through the required hoops, the bill would lift the Nebraska gambling ban on in-state collegiate sports.
Tax revenue from sports betting would also go toward Nebraska college scholarship funds under this bill. “This isn’t about expanding gambling,” Bostar told the Omaha World-Herald. “It’s about providing consistency in our statutes.”
Current Nebraska sports betting rules are inconsistent
Bostar made it clear: He believes that Nebraska should legalize sports betting on collegiate teams within the state. To him, it’s not an apples-to-oranges situation when it comes to betting on Nebraska college sports and any other collegiate teams.
He told the Lincoln Journal Star:
“We’re talking about gambling on the same team, the same players, doing the same activities. Treating it differently simply based on the geography of where the competitions are taking place doesn’t seem like a good policy.”
Collegiate sports betting taxes would support in-state schools
One of the big incentives, when it came to the legalization of Nebraska’s casino industry, was tax allocation. In Nebraska, 70% of tax money from gambling goes directly to property tax relief.
Under Legislative Bill 168, taxes from in-state college sports betting revenue would go directly to the Nebraska Opportunity Grand Fund. The fund provides financial aid to students looking for post-secondary education.
“We want to make sure those Nebraska Opportunity scholarships remain in a healthy condition so that the students, the young people of Nebraska, can fully take advantage of them,” Bostar told the Journal Star.
The current framework for Nebraska sports betting directs revenue to its Property Tax Credit Cash Fund, just like casino gaming.
However, not everyone is on board with betting on sports in Nebraska.
Pat Loontjer, the executive director of Gambling with the Good Life, spoke with the Journal Star. She believes expanding sports betting in Nebraska would put the players and coaches in a poor position.
“Sports betting really corrupts the whole industry,” she said. “It just destroys the whole sports atmosphere.”
A snapshot of Nebraska sports betting
As of now, Nebraska has yet to fully launch its sports betting industry. The state’s official rules and regulations on the subject are still in the works, but there was some framework placed when the state passed the Racetrack Gaming Act, which legalized casino gambling.
Under the Racetrack Gaming Act, sports betting can only happen at the state’s racetrack casinos. Those bets must be placed in person, meaning no online sports betting. Additionally, Nebraskans cannot gamble on the Huskers or any collegiate event taking place within state lines.
Gov. Jim Pillen and attorney general Mike Hilgers must approve the rules, though, before anything launches.
Iowa feels effect of growing Nebraska gambling industry
The first Nebraska casino, WarHorse Casino Lincoln, opened in September last year, marking a historic milestone for the state. In December, the Grand Island casino, located at Fonner Park, opened as well.
WarHorse also boasts a license to open a casino in Omaha, too.
It’s yet to be seen whether or not the Husker State’s sports betting industry will chip away at Iowa’s, considering legislation still needs final approval. But there was some pessimism when Nebraska legalized and opened its casinos, and those appear to be dipping into Iowa’s market share.
It’s assumed WarHorse Lincoln received $43 million in slot betting in its first 38 days of operation, based on a 90% average payout. Around that same time, the three casinos in Council Bluffs showed a $10.4 million dip from their September numbers.
Year-to-year, that figure represents an $18.4 million drop-off.
In December, the two Nebraska casinos tallied $856,000 in gaming taxes, which stands higher than October’s figures.
It’s not necessarily a surprise, considering the allure of new casinos with state-of-the-art technology a stone’s throw from Council Bluffs in the Nebraska market. But that was one of the main attractions to legalizing the industry in the Husker State. Proponents wanted to keep dollars within state lines.
“We’re really hoping Nebraskans choose to keep their money in Nebraska and reap the rewards of some of that tax revenue as a result of it,” WarHorse representative Drew Niehaus told PlayIA.com back in 2022.
It’s worth noting that the market will mature over time. After a strong opening, WarHorse Lincoln’s revenue dropped for three-straight months, according to the Journal Star. The Grand Island casino’s opening certainly shares some of the blame.