With the College World Series about to start and an NCAA men’s basketball regional set for March 2024, the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission (NRGC) is facing an unexpected question: Are those in Nebraska able to bet on the those events under the state’s 2021 wagering law?
On Friday, NRGC Executive Director Tom Sage brought that question to the commission, though there was no resolution. Under Nebraska’s wagering law, betting on college sports is legal except for betting on Nebraska teams playing in the state. For a single game, the law is clear: If Nebraska is playing Iowa at home, the game is off-limits, but if the Cornhuskers are playing at Iowa, betting is allowed.
But what happens if a Nebraska team qualifies for a postseason tournament that is played in the state?
“The legislative intent was only no betting on Nebraska teams at home,” Laurie Holman, a state legislator said during a meeting Friday.
But the text of LB 561 may not reflect that intent.
“An authorized sporting event does not include an in-state sporting event in which an in-state collegiate or university team is a participant,” reads Article VI, Section 3B.
That text could be interpreted to mean that if, for example, Creighton or Nebraska had qualified for the CWS, which is played in Omaha, that betting on any game would be illegal.
“Does the statute read that there is no betting at all on NCAA tournaments [in Nebraska]?” Sage asked.
“It seems the legislature intended something, but the text may not read that way,” attorney Ken Yoho said. “I share Tom’s concern.”
Legislative fix needed
The text does appear to ban betting on postseason games held in Nebraska if a Nebraska team is participating.
Other states have prohibitions against wagering on in-state schools, but in the law in Massachusetts, legislators went on to define exceptions to the rule, which include allowing wagering on Massachusetts teams playing in a tournament with four or more participants. Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia also prohibit betting on local colleges and universities, but would allow wagering on NCAA tournaments held in those states –just not on local teams.
Nebraska’s lawmakers did not lay out any exceptions, and by using the world “event,” they may have unintentionally created a situation where no wagering on colleges would be legal during the CWS, March Madness, or similar tournaments.
The NRGC cannot create a workaround to the law. Instead, a change would have to come via the legislature, which adjourned June 1 and reconvenes in early January.
War Horse not live for retail yet
As of Monday, the issue is moot, as sports wagering is not live anywhere in the state. War Horse Lincoln Casino is ready to launch, but according to Lynne McNally CEO of the Nebraska Horsemen, Kambi, which will provide back-end services for the sportsbook, is not yet licensed. She told the commission that Kambi’s licensing paperwork has not been properly completed or submitted to the commission, but once it is, the sportsbook is prepared to launch.
War Horse Lincoln will be the first retail sportsbook to go live in Nebraska, and the expectation is that War Horse Omaha will go next.
The commission also corrected some administrative errors and added NHL parlays, NHL Draft wagers, and betting on Division I college baseball. It also added the words “men’s and women’s” for all Division 1, 2, and 3 NCAA basketball. All of those wagering categories were inadvertently left off the bet menu that was unveiled earlier this year.