• The only current forms of gambling in Nebraska include horse racing, keno, class II gaming at tribal casinos, and the state lottery.
  • NE Governor Pete Ricketts has previously shown strong opposition to the expansion of gambling.
  • Neighboring states such as Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and South Dakota all currently have state-authorized commercial casino gambling.

LINCOLN, Neb. – State lawmakers have long opposed commercial casino gambling in Nebraska. But, local voters may have a say on the issue next fall.

A petition has been launched to put legalized casino gaming on the 2020 ballot and the initiative is backed by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. Lance Morgan, the CEO of Ho-Chunk, the business that is financially supporting the petition, spoke on the urgency of the matter.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars go across the border every year,” he said. “For a Nebraskan to do gaming, you have to go half a mile. It’s the height of paternalism to try to restrict it.”

While Nebraska does have tribal casinos, the state limits them to only Class II gaming. This means that games such as slot machines and house-banked card games are not allowed. The only other forms of gambling in the state include horse race wagering, keno, and the state lottery.

Nebraska is surrounded by states that currently have some form of legalized commercial casino gambling. Those states include Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and South Dakota.

Iowa specifically serves as a huge draw for gamblers in Nebraska due to the fact that Omaha sits right on its border. To add to this, Iowa has recently legalized sports betting through its retail casinos and through a state-wide mobile sports wagering app.

Sports bettors in Nebraska will simply have to register in person at any state-licensed Iowa sportsbook, download the sports betting app, and simply cross the border anytime they want to place a wager on a game.

Iowa is going to continue to profit off Nebraska,” said  Brendan Bussmann, former director of football operations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and now a partner in Las Vegas-based gambling and entertainment consultant Global Market Advisors.

“Most of your Big Ten states are going to have sports betting within two years,” said Bussman.Some of those states have already gotten a head start. Pennsylvania was the first of the Big 10 state to have legalized sports betting in 2018. States such as Indiana, Iowa, and Illinois have all legalized the activity in recent months and Michigan and Ohio still have a chance to do so later this year as well.

However, each one of those states that have legalized sports betting so far has done so through their commercial casinos first. That is something that Nebraska will need if they plan on following the same path as other mid-western states.

The biggest obstacle to any expanded gambling in Nebraska will most likely come from state legislators and NE Governor Pete Ricketts. Ricketts has shown a strong stance against gambling and spoke strongly against sports betting specifically when the federal ban on the practice was lifted in May of 2018.

“I’ve always been against expanded gambling here in Nebraska,” Ricketts told KMTV Omaha 3 News Now. “In fact, that’s how I got involved in politics over a decade ago. And So I have no plans to change that.”

Ricketts also previously served as a board member to the anti-gambling organization known as “Gambling With The Good Life”.

But, opponents of expanded gambling in Nebraska have recognized that public perception of casinos and gaming has shifted in recent years.“It’s going to be hard,” said Pat Loontjer, executive director of Gambling With The Good Life. “We’ve been doing this for 24 years, and well, the atmosphere in the state has changed.”

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