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  • A hearing by the General Affairs Committee on February 10 listened to three separate bills that would make the wagering on sporting events legal in Nebraska.
  • Currently, Iowa is benefitting off of sports bettors from the Cornhusker State that are visiting simply to wager on sports.
  • If the state legalizes sports betting, they could potentially see millions in revenue that would help with the education system in Nebraska as well as other parts of the economy.

LINCOLN, Neb. – Three bills are on the table to make sports wagering in Nebraska legal and they were heard by the General Affairs Committee on Monday. Two bills categorize sports betting as a game of skill which would mean no amendments to the state’s Constitution would be needed.

One bill is calling for the Constitution to be amended to allow for the pastime because it did not define sports betting as a game of skill. If it’s a game of chance, an amendment would be needed as games of chance are not legal within the Constitution of Nebraska.

The Bill Trio

The first bill is the Amendment to the Constitution, NE LR295CA sponsored by Senate Committee member, Justin Wayne. This bill calls for an amendment that would give lawmakers the ability to legalize, regulate, and tax games of chance such as sports betting. This bill would be a monumental uphill battle as changing the Constitution of a state is rarely done.

Bill number two on the docket is NE LB971. and again, Wayne is the mastermind behind this bill, as he’s the sponsor for every bill being heard to legalize sports betting in the Cornhusker State. NE LB971 would allow sports wagers through the state lottery and include other “games of skill” like poker and daily fantasy sports (DFS).

The third and final bill presented at the hearing is NE LB990. Under this bill sports wagering would be considered a game of skill. The revenue acquired from the market would help to alleviate school property taxes in the state.

Sports betting, poker and DFS are all covered within this bill for legalization. It is the argument that sports bettors need to have skill in order to wager on games.

They need to have facts and knowledge to make informed bets which makes it a skill rather than a game of chance. Slot machines are a game of chance because a gambler has no idea what the machine will come up with, they just put their money in and hope for the best.

The Opposition

There was opposition at the hearing to legalize sports betting Nebraska. The Governor of Nebraska Pete Ricketts has spoken out in the past after the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) was overturned in 2018 about his views toward wagering on sports.

“I’ve always been against expanded gambling here in Nebraska,” said Ricketts. “In fact, that’s how I got involved in politics over a decade ago. And so I have no plans to change that.”

However, residents of the state would like to see the hobby become legal as surrounding states are benefitting from Nebraskans that are gambling on sports and other games. Petitions have been going around to get casino gambling as well as other forms of betting on the ballot for a public vote in 2020. “Keep The Money In Nebraska” has been gathering signatures statewide for months.

“Been giving our money away long enough, it’s time to keep it in the state, it’s time to keep it in Nebraska, and reap the benefits of tax revenue. If we’re talking anywhere from 100 million to maybe 300 million a year in tax revenue, that’s a lot of money that could go to property taxes and education and things like that,” said Mike Newlin, Vice President of Racing Operations at Lincoln Race Course.

The Hearing

The hearing opened up with NE LB971 and Sponsor Justin Wayne spoke on the first of his three bills. The only prohibited sports within this bill would be no youth or high school sports wagers may be taken by sportsbooks.

“Nebraskans are already doing this- they can walk across the pedestrian bridge to place their bets and walk back,” said Wayne. “Gambling laws are outdated and counterproductive.”

He went on to mention that 80% of sports bets received by Harrah’s Council Bluffs Hotel & Casino in Iowa have are from Nebraska residents. Since September, Iowa has seen $1.9 million in revenue from sports betting from a 6.75% tax rate. Wayne would be asking for a 10-20% tax on all revenue from sports wagers with his bills. His point in mentioning this would be that Nebraska’s revenue would be three times that of Iowa.

Ninety percent of all Nebraskans are within two hours of a legal sportsbook to place wagers. To end his speech before giving others a chance at the podium, Wayne said, “The lottery has the least amount of a chance of winning, that’s a known fact, and it’s legal.”

Many people spoke in opposition to the legalization of sports betting. One such testifier was Les Bernal, the National Director for Stop Predatory Gambling.

“$1.2 billion has been lost since 1993 to the Nebraska Lottery,” said Bernal. “Building wealth is the exact opposite of commercialized gambling. The highest rates of family dysfunction come from states with legal gambling. It is a recycled argument about the gains from out of state narrative.”

After quite a few spoke out against making gambling on sporting events legal, Sponsor Justin Wayne closed his bill with the words, “People will go, it’s already happening. To say it’s not is false. There is no offset on revenue and we need to offset revenue.”

“It can be argued that gambling and alcohol go together, I’m married, and one can say marriage and alcohol go together,” said Wayne. That was his way of trying to end on a lighter note as many people testified that alcoholism was caused by people’s love of gambling.

NE LB990

The talk on bill NE LB990 went quickly as time was running out for the hearing. Wayne said, “The fact of the matter is that fantasy sports, poker, and sports betting are all games of skill and not gambling.”

After a few of the same speakers in opposition, Wayne closed the argument on the bill with, “This is a new revenue source I think we should explore.” When asked about why he included schools within the bill he said he hopes to create a sales tax to go toward directly funding schools which is why it was mentioned.

NE LR 295CA

Wayne opened up on the bill that would require an amendment to the state’s Constitution by saying “People are saying it is not good for the people of Nebraska, but let them vote on it, do they want it or do they not. Put it to a vote of the people and the revenue will then go to the General Fund.”

“Once an amendment passes, it doesn’t say we need to have sports betting, it just opens the doors for the option to do so in the future.”

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