Nebraska Voters Approve Major Gaming Expansion

As of midnight CST, and with nearly 80% of precincts reporting, Nebraska was poised to approve a massive expansion of gaming that could ultimately allow for legal retail sports wagering in the state. Nebraska is one of six states that had some sort of gaming-related initiative on the ballot. Marylanders approved statewide mobile and retail sports betting while voters in more than 50 Louisiana parishes approved retail sports wagering.

According to the Associated Press, more than 65% of Nebraska voters favored all three constitutional amendments required for the expansion, with 79% of votes counted.

The proposed amendments legalize “all games of chance.” The very broad language is interpreted by stakeholders to include sports betting, and some think it could ultimately include a mobile/online piece.

“Nebraska has been a gaming state. It has the lottery, keno, horse racing, and now will have casino gaming under an “all games of chance” that passed tonight and will include sports betting and other forms of gaming,” Brendan Bussmann, a partner with Global Market Advisors and Nebraska native told Sports Handle. “The devil will be in the details now on how it rolls out as the initiative process is the wrong path to craft gaming policy and throws it over to the Legislature and Executive Branch on how it is implemented and to get it right.”

Racetracks and tribal casinos benefit

The three constitutional amendments required to expand gaming include Initiative 429, which allows for gambling at racetracks, Initiative 430, which creates the Nebraska Gaming Commission, and Initiative 431, which sets a tax rate of 20% of gross gaming revenue. The last gaming expansion in Nebraska was 16 years ago.

While sports betting is not explicitly mentioned in the proposed amendments, many in the industry believe it’s understood that racetracks and tribal casinos will add sports betting. Though the tribal casinos aren’t governed by the state for gaming, they can’t offer sports betting unless it is legal to be offered elsewhere in Nebraska.

“As a former Nebraskan, I am encouraged to see that the state will be able to use gaming as a new revenue source; its been way too long as it should have passed in 2004,” Bussmann said, referring to the last time a gaming expansion was on the ballot. “Sports betting has been going on in the state illegally for decades, even Coach Osborne admitted that when he was still coaching. Now, it is about putting together the infrastructure to maximize the opportunity to the best of its ability for the state.”

The fight for and against the expansion has been contentious. Billionaire Warren Buffett and legendary Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne are both opposed, while the state’s horsemen and the Winnebago tribe poured millions into the campaign to pass the amendments. Buffett and Osborne are in alignment with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who donated $100,000 to the campaign to defeat the amendments.

Ricketts posted a letter about the ills of gambling in August, writing that “Nebraska is the fourth least gambling-addicted state in America,” and that expanding gambling brings financial crimes, and “shatters relationships, and destroys families.”

CO, SD, VA approve gaming initiatives

Colorado: According to the Denver Post, Coloradans overwhelmingly passed Amendment 77, which would put some gaming decisions, including bet limits, into the hands of voters in Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek. The three mining towns are home to all of Colorado’s 33 casinos. With 83% of votes counted by 11 p.m. MST, 59.6% of voters favored the measure.

South Dakota: According to the Associated Press, South Dakota’s Amendment B passed Tuesday night. As of 11 p.m. CST, 58% of voters approved the initiative. Eighty-five percent of votes had been counted. The measure would also allow for sports betting at tribal casinos, and, if the legislature decides to allow it, at non-tribal venues outside of Deadwood. Lawmakers now must develop a framework for sports betting.

Virginia: Residents of Bristol, Danville, Norfolk, and Portsmouth all voted “yes” to allow casinos in their cities. Virginia lawmakers legalized sports betting earlier this year, and as part of the new law, approved casinos in five cities, if local residents want them. Richmond was also approved for a casino, but is on a different timeline than the other four cities.

In Bristol, 71% of voters approved building a casino; in Danville with 17 precincts reporting, “yes” votes led, 13,022-5,941; in Norfolk with 78% of ballots counted by 11 p.m. EST, 64.7% favored the expansion; and in Portsmouth nearly 68% of voters approved the casino as of 10 p.m. EST.

Three of the four cities already have gaming partners — Hard Rock is planning a facility in Bristol, Caesars plans to build in Danville, and Portsmouth made a deal with Rush Street Gaming. The city of Norfolk sold land for a casino to the Pamunkey tribe, but a gaming partner has not been announced.

“Caesars Entertainment thanks the voters of Danville for their support of the referendum that will bring Caesars Virginia to Danville,”Caesars CEO Tom Reeg said via press release. “We look forward to fulfilling the trust the voters have placed in us by bringing 1,300 good-paying jobs, tourism dollars and economic development to the City, and we are incredibly excited to begin construction.”

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