Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts on Wednesday signed LB 561, a bill that creates a regulatory framework for sports betting at in-person locations. Lawmakers sent Ricketts the bill, which also allows for casino gaming and includes some changes to the availability of keno, on May 20 and Ricketts had until Wednesday to sign or veto it.
Nebraska voters legalized “all games of chance” on the November 2020 ballot, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that lawmakers made it clear they believed sports betting was included under that definition. In some states, sports wagering is defined as a “game of skill.”
The new bill renames and the change powers and duties of the State Racing Commission, updating it as the State Racing and Gaming Commission. The legislation also has an emergency clause, which will allow regulators to immediately begin working on rules and application process. The expectation is that bets could be taken at some locations by the end of 2021. The new law allows for existing tribal casinos, racinos, and horse racetracks to apply for licensure.
“When Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot proposals in November, they provided the legislature with a mandate,” bill sponsor Sen. Tom Briese said in a statement. “That mandate is they want casinos at racetracks, and the property tax relief they will provide. In doing so, they approved all games of chance, including sports betting and other such games, as a matter of law.
“I introduced LB 561 to clarify what the voters approved, and provide some parameters that are both consistent with what the voters mandated and consistent with Nebraska values.”
No betting on Cornhuskers
The new law limits sports betting to in-person locations only and bans wagering on Nebraska college teams. Nebraska joins Illinois in prohibiting wagering on in-state Big Ten teams. Fans and bettors in Nebraska can cross the border into Iowa or Colorado and wager on the Cornhuskers on a mobile device or place a bet in person. By the end of the year, they’ll have the same option in Wyoming.
The so-called “college carveout” leaves the door open or invites activity in the black market, industry advocates have long argued. But during debate prior to passing the bill, lawmakers didn’t seem too concerned about losing tax revenue due to the carve out or the lack of mobile betting.
“If people want to go to Iowa to do that, they can keep going to Iowa,” Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said.
LB561 (casino/sports gambling bill) is back up for "final debate" today.
I use quotes because this is where PPB & Friends will likely try to move to attach their pearl clutching amendment outlawing betting on Nebraska sports.
Our source at the capitol will provide us updates. pic.twitter.com/GLZpZvKkxp
— John M. Bishop (@JohnBishop71) May 13, 2021
Lawmakers stripped the mobile component and added the college prohibition with an amendment.
Said Sen. Steve Lathrop: “We’re making sausage here and that’s not always pretty. … When you are trying to get something as consequential as LB 561 across the finish line, you have to make some accommodations. And these are those accommodations, it’s not a big deal.”
Sen. Tom Brandt argued at that time that General Affairs Committee had spent long hours studying and crafting a bill that would put Nebraska in the best position to collect taxes on sports betting, which are earmarked for property tax relief. He was clearly frustrated by the changes, which also affected keno.
“We spent a month hammering this out and now we’re in the 11th hour and trying to put amendments on this to try to sort out betting on local teams,” he said in debate on May 20. “So, if the football team is playing at home, if YOUR football team is playing at home, you can take your dollars and drive them across to Iowa and that’s money that could go to Nebraska property taxes.”
Getting close. HB 247 will now head to the House floor for final approval before being sent to Gov. Edwards.
Together, the bills allow for statewide mobile wagering with two skins, or digital partners, per brick-and-mortar location.https://t.co/avs0b7EN0r
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) May 25, 2021
Voters in Nebraska joined those in three other states to legalize sports betting via referendum last November. Louisiana lawmakers appear poised to approve a bill that would allow for statewide digital and retail sports betting, while Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a framework bill on May 18. Two months earlier, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill in her state, and rule-making is already in progress.