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Nebraska Not On List Of States Rushing To Pass Online Gambling Legislation

gambling in NebraskaIn December 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice changed its ruling on the federal Wire Act of 1961, stating that the law applies only to sports betting. This change sparked a flurry of legislative discussion in many a state legislature, and a race to see which states could pass landmark online gambling regulations had begun. Nebraska, however, was not one of those states.

The state’s largest city, Omaha, was once a gambling hotbed of the Great Plains, but today there is no legal form of commercial gambling. Nebraskans are free to participate in pari-mutuel wagering on horse races, play the Nebraska Lottery, or visit one of the state’s four tribal casinos. Nebraska also allows raffles, city or county lotteries, pull tabs, keno, and punch boards. Residents have also been known to visit casinos in the neighboring states of Iowa, Missouri (riverboats), and South Dakota.

Although there has been no talk of joining the race to legalize online gambling, the Nebraska legislature did manage to push through LB 806, a bill that would have permitted wagering on previously run horse races on electronic gaming machines. However, the measure was vetoed by Gov. Dave Heineman in April 2012. Heineman cited concerns over whether the bill was permissible under the wording of current state statutes and was also not prepared to create a new type of gambling. He felt that betting on past races would go against the spirit of live racing intended by Nebraska voters.[1]

Nebraska Sen. Paul Schumacher attempted to keep gambling dollars inside Nebraska borders in January 2012 with Resolution 375CA. His proposal sought a constitutional amendment to allow the building of casinos, but its intent was really to force neighboring states to cough up revenue obtained from Nebraskans who gambled in out-of-state casinos. Schumacher’s idea was to send a message to border states that Nebraska would build its own gambling houses unless those states started giving a portion of their gambling proceeds and taxes to Nebraska. Schumacher’s argument for the bill included the additional $50 million to $100 million that Nebraska could receive in gambling revenue from Iowa alone, and he became weary of other states “poaching” his state’s resources. “There are 3,000 to 4,000 slot machines poised on Nebraska’s doorstep in Council Bluffs, and they’re poised there for one reason, to plunder our resources and keep the money in Iowa,” Schumacher said. Colleagues of Schumacher in the state legislature were seemingly not as concerned about the poaching as the creative-thinking senator, as his proposal never made it out of committee.[2]

Pioneer Gamblers, Ak-Sar-Ben, And The History Of Gambling In Nebraska

A stop that became permanent rather than temporary for many pioneers heading West during the nineteenth century, Omaha quickly earned the reputation as a “wide-open” city where just about anything, including gambling, was accepted. Omaha’s Sporting District was the place to be if gambling was on a traveler’s mind. One such traveler was Tom Dennison, who, after making his way through the West working in saloons, prospecting, and gambling, became the most well-known if not notorious gambler in Omaha during the latter half of the 19th century.

Dennison soon turned himself into a political strongarm as Nebraska entered the 20th century. He was so powerful that his influence managed to get the same mayor elected eight times. Dennison’s control and his gambling establishments lasted into the early 1930s. Dennison died in 1934 after sustaining injuries from a car accident. It was only after his death that Omaha’s reputation for gambling began to fade.[3]

While Dennison was doing things his way and only his way, an organization called the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben[4] with more community-minded interests was created, originally for the purpose of keeping the Nebraska State Fair in Omaha. Oddly enough, while its philanthropic, do-gooder intentions were indeed realized, the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben also are credited with helping legalize gambling on horse races in Nebraska. The group opened a thoroughbred racetrack in 1920. A coliseum followed nine years later. The racetrack enjoyed its heyday in the 1980s, boasting tenth place in attendance out of all tracks in the U.S. The coliseum added to the venue’s popularity as it proved a suitable spot for concerts, sporting events, and festivals.

The track’s success began to fade in the mid-80s when Iowa enacted laws permitting dog racing and other forms of gambling. Racing at Ak-Sar-Ben stopped in 1995, and from there the facilities were demolished and rebuilt for other uses. Pari-mutuel betting has been legal in Nebraska since 1935. Currently four tracks, Fonner Park, Columbus, Horsemens Atokad Downs, and the Lincoln Racetrack offer residents of Nebraska almost year-round chances at winning big if you pick the right horses.[5]

Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track Omaha
Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track in Nebraska

Indian casinos also have been a draw for Nebraskans who don’t want to cross into South Dakota or Iowa. Currently there are five Class II tribal casinos in the state. Ohiya Casino and Bingo[6] is credited with being the first tribal casino to open in Nebraska 16 years ago and is run by the Santee Sioux Nation in Niobrara. Iron Horse Bar and Casino in Emerson and Native Star Casino in Winnebago[7] are operated by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. Lucky 77 Casino is located in Walthill, owned and operated by the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska[8]. And the Rosebud Sioux Tribe runs the Rosebud Casino in Valentine, Nebraska.[9]

The Nebraska Lottery was born following a constitutional amendment approved by 63 percent of the state’s voters in the November 1992 election. Once the legislature passed the State Lottery Act in February 1993, scratch ticket sales kicked off in September, followed by Lotto tickets in July of 1994. Another amendment in 2004 defined where percentages of lottery proceeds would go. The Education Innovation Fund and the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Fund currently split 44.5 percent of proceeds. Another 44.5 percent goes to the Nebraska Environmental Trust. Ten percent is earmarked for the Nebraska State Fair, and 1 percent, as well as the first $500,000 earned at the start of each fiscal year, is sent to the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund. Since its creation, the Nebraska Lottery has generated more than $449 million back into these state programs.[10]

Chance Of Online Gambling Legislation In Nebraska Is Very Slim

As legislators in some states are scrambling in their efforts to increase revenue by passing online gambling legislation, Nebraska’s lawmakers aren’t even considering the topic for discussion yet. The Cornhusker State is in need of additional revenue as evidenced by Sen. Schumacher’s attempt at forcing other nearby states to kick back some of the money earned by Nebraskans playing at their casinos. Since that legislative effort went nowhere, perhaps lawmakers such as Schumacher will someday propose online gambling legislation. But Nebraska certainly won’t be in the forefront of states attempting to do so. In all likelihood, several other states would probably have to be up and running with online poker and gambling sites and proving the viability before Nebraska dips their toes in the water.

References

[1] Nebraska Governor vetoes gambling bill LB 806 by Wowt.com
[2] Nebraska to push surrounding states for share of casino profits – CalvinAyre news report
[3] Tom “Pickhandle” Dennison by Wikipedia.org
[4] The Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben by Wikipedia.org
[5] The Ak-Sar-Ben Arena by Wikipedia.org
[6] Ohiya Casino
[7] The Winnebago Casino Group Official Website
[8] Businesses owned by the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska
[9] Rosebud Casino in Nebraska – Official site
[10] About the nebraska lottery by NELottery.com