After on March 17, 2021, lawmakers in Nebraska gave first-round approval to a measure that would create regulations to govern the state’s newly legalized casinos upon opening, legislators have now reportedly amended a gambling regulation bill for sports betting.
According to AP News, the bill would enable sports fans in the midwestern U.S. state to legally wager on the lion’s share of collegiate and professional events, with the exception of in-state teams’ home games. Changes to the measure, which as added on a 31-4 vote, were an effort by lawmakers to garner sufficient support for it to pass and would reportedly apply to schools including the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Creighton University Bluejays.
The Cornhuskers football team competes as part of the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, representing the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in the West Division of the Big Ten while the Bluejays men’s basketball team represents Creighton University of the NCAA Division I college basketball and currently compete in the Big East Conference.
In a statement in the news release, Democratic Senator Steve Lathrop, who represents Nebraska’s twelfth state senate district, reportedly said that the compromise was part of legislative “sausage making” and necessary to ensure passage of the broader bill. The bill’s importance cannot be overstated as it puts in place regulations for the state’s casinos, which are expected to open after on November 4, 2020, voters overwhelmingly approved measures giving existing state-licensed horseracing facilities the ability to offer games of chance such as slots.
“You may not like it, but in the end, we need to get (the bill) across the finish line,” Lathrop said, according to the source.
The legislation isn’t without opposition, however, as some lawmakers, such as Senator Tom Brandt, of Plymouth, are reportedly not comfortable allowing wagers on collegiate teams, citing undue pressure on the states student athletes. Meanwhile, other lawmakers argue that the amendment doesn’t make sense as fans, they say, already bet on collegiate teams.
Brandt, who is an independent elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 2018, said “We can bet on the Iowa Hawkeyes, but we can’t bet on the Huskers” regarding the changed bill, while Democratic Senator Adam Morfeld, of Lincoln, reportedly said the proposed law will only encourage Nebraskans to place their wagers on the Huskers in the neighboring state of Iowa, where in May 2019, it became the second Midwestern state after Indiana to have legalized sports betting.
“We’re pretending like this isn’t occurring,” Morfeld said, calling the measure “completely illogical” and “puritanical nonsense,” as reported by the AP News.
In addition, the new measure would also reportedly require that keno played at casinos operate under the exact rules as venues where the lottery-like gambling game is already offered. The change was reportedly agreed to by lawmakers as a response to keno parlors concerned about losing business and tax revenue from keno received by cities that bankrolls community projects.
Legislators will have to vote on the bill one more before it makes its way to the desk of Governor Pete Ricketts, who is a University of Chicago alum and along with other family members is part owner of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs. The Republican governor is reportedly vehemently opposed to the casino ballot measure, however, will apparently respect what the voter want.
In 2020, Governor Rickets reportedly donated $100,000 to Gambling with the Good Life, a campaign opposed to Initiatives 429, 430, and 431, which would authorize, regulate, and tax gambling at licensed horse racetracks. Fast forward to November that year, and all three of the initiatives were approved, including Nebraska Initiative 430, the Authorizing Gambling at Racetracks Initiative, which was on the ballot as an initiated state statute.
Meanwhile, in April, Fonner Park chose Iowa-based casino operator Elite Casino Resorts, LLC to operate its planned $100 million Grand Island Casino Resort. The thoroughbred horse racing facility located in Grand Island began accepting proposals to which officials received nine responses to requests and met with eight different operators to hear each of their respective plans.
Additionally, on January 20, 2021, the Nebraska Horseman’s Benevolent & Protective Association (HBPA) submitted an application to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department in the hope of securing a zoning change to accommodate WarHorse Gaming LLC’s planned $200 million WarHorse Casino at Lincoln Race Course. The new division was established by Ho-Chunk, Inc., the economic development corporation owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, in December 2020 when it announced that it was moving forward with plans to bring casino gaming to three existing horse racing tracks in the midwestern U.S. state, including Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, Lincoln Racecourse in Lincoln, and Atokad Downs in South Sioux City.