A half-page amendment that would ban mobile sports wagering and prohibit betting on in-state college teams created a firestorm on the floor of the unicameral Nebraska Legislature Thursday morning, complete with name calling and finger pointing.
The amendment to LB 561 strikes the section of the bill relating to geofencing and bans betting on the University of Nebraska and other college teams. The amendment, which passed 31-4, also altered what keno will look like in casinos. The bill was then sent back to be engrossed by a vote of 39-3. The amended bill, which would limit wagering to physical sportsbooks located at racinos, racetracks, and tribal casinos, will likely come up for a vote next week.
Nebraska lawmakers are tasked with developing a framework for legal sports betting after voters legalized a gaming expansion in November 2020. At that time, it was unclear if sports betting would be included in the expansion, which legalized “all games of chance.” Lawmakers have since determined that sports betting — which in some states is defined as a “game of skill” — fits the definition and have included it in legislation.
“Illegal books and the governor 1, legislature 0,” said Brendan Bussmann, a partner with Global Market Advisors, who has a vested interest in Nebraska. “The legislature today not only failed the people when they voted for all games of chance, but several members bowed to the governor’s wishes to try to dilute a bill and allow the illegal books to continue to thrive on college wagering.”
The amendment drew nearly an hour’s worth of discussion with passionate dialogue on both sides of the issue. Some key comments from those opposed to the amendment:
From Sen. Adam Morfeld: “I don’t like this provision, You can drive to Iowa and place a bet and then go watch the game … or you can place a bet on your phone at the game … but you can’t bet on Nebraska [in Nebraska]. It’s illogical, and I don’t care if 13 states are doing it. What we have in this amendment is illogical, nonsensical, and it’s what 13 states already allow. It makes no sense at all.”
From Sen. Tom Brandt: “We spent a month hammering this out [in committee] and now we’re in the 11th hour and trying to put amendments on this to try to sort out betting on local teams. … 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 [otherwise] could go to Nebraskans’ property taxes.”
Go ahead and bet across state lines
When we the people of Nebraska voted to expand gambling in our state we knew that would include sports betting and betting on Nebraska. We voted FOR it. The legislature has failed to enact the will of the people.
Court challenge coming?
I freaking hope so.
Stupid. Just stupid. pic.twitter.com/fC7CbQHIJ4
— 📻 Tyson Havranek (@Tyson_Havranek) May 13, 2021
Iowa was an early adopter of sports betting — lawmakers there legalized in May 2019, and the first sportsbooks went live (both retail and digital) on Aug. 15, 2019. Operators offer statewide mobile sports betting, and while college prop bets are banned, wagering on college sports in general is allowed.
Those in favor of the Nebraska amendment are squarely disinterested in the tax dollars leaving Nebraska:
After being asked if the phrase “sports teams” should be defined in the legislation, Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks replied, “I don’t think we have to do that, I don’t think this is something that people should be doing here. If people want to go Iowa to do that, they can keep going to Iowa.”
“Even Coach Osborne talked for years about how people will continue to wager on Nebraska football, and it is astonishing that a member of the Unicameral said ‘Send that tax money to Iowa,” said Bussmann, who used to work with the Nebraska football team.
Or from Sen. Steve Lathrop, author of the amendment:
“We’re making sausage here and that’s not always pretty. I think the keno stuff is good, but not enthusiastic about the sports betting part. But that’s what gets us to 25 [votes on the amendment]. This is about the number, Sen. Briese needs 33 and he won’t have it without this amendment. 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.”
Changes to keno, too
LB 561, because it has its origins in a voter referendum, will require 33 “yes” votes for passage. The single-chamber legislature has 49 members.
Besides dramatically altering what sports betting will look like in Nebraska, the amended bill would also put some restrictions on how keno, which is very popular in the state, can be offered in casinos. The initial version of the bill included mobile keno, but that was stripped May 10.
Should Nebraska’s legislature ultimately approve LB 561, it will become the third state to develop a legislative framework after voters authorized sports betting. South Dakota was the first, while lawmakers in Maryland sent a framework to their governor in April, and Louisiana lawmakers are hammering out details. The Louisiana legislature went into session April 12.