Sports Betting Giants Withdraw from Nebraska, Delaying Online Gambling Dream

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Deep inside the Cornhusker State, the dream of online sports gambling has faced an unexpected fold as America’s four largest sportsbook giants draw back their legislative crusade. The push to bring online sports betting to Nebraska, once considered an inevitable wave of the future, is now stalled on the sidelines.

Only earlier this year, DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and Caesars Sportsbook, together with the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, engaged the public sentiment of Nebraska’s residents. A commissioned poll aimed to measure the pulse of the public towards online sports betting. However, the slim majority of 57% support did little to embolden the online gambling frontrunners. They decided it wasn’t robust enough to sustain their legislative struggle.

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These online sportsbook operators faced a wall of refusal from the lawmakers in Lincoln who balked at passing legislation to allow sports bets to be made online in Nebraska. The only resort left was a ballot initiative this November where the residents could express their voice. However, a daunting challenge lay in collecting the required 122K signatures from residents and launching a multi-million-dollar marketing campaign against solid and tenacious anti-gambling forces. The risk emerged as a Goliath against their dreams and investments in the intimate state of Nebraska, where less than two million people reside.

Meanwhile, sports betting in Nebraska remains confined to retail betting at the state’s horse racetracks, where permanent casinos are slowly sprouting.

The next chance for Nebraskans to champion their cause might not come before 2026 – unless the GOP-controlled Legislature takes a surprising turn to support online sports betting. Until then, many Nebraskan sports bettors from Omaha and Lincoln, the state’s two most populated cities, are compelled to cross the Missouri River and dip their toes in the Iowa territory.

Lance Morgan, CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe, labelled this slim favor for online sports betting as the reason for shelving the initiative. The financial challenges of substantial resources were daunting, and the initiative didn’t hold enough promise to warrant a ‘war chest’.

Consequently, Ho-Chunk, despite investing a whopping $400 million in permanent casinos in Lincoln and Omaha, chose to withdraw from backing the campaign as the four sportsbooks operators quit the scene.

However, we cannot ignore the counterforce the small population of Nebraska poses. The state itself is no less a player in this grand scheme, as Morgan highlights, addressing the sportsbooks withdrawal as, “one of the problems of being a small population state.”

While Nebraska lawmakers possess the power to legalize online sports gambling through legislative action, the ball remains in their court. With the state constitution amended in 2020 to allow commercial casinos at licensed horse racetracks, sports betting, and related games, with a considerable 65% support, this lament of lost opportunity resonates deeply in the gaming community.

Today, Morgan hopes that the state lawmakers will view online sports betting as a golden opportunity to enrich the state’s gaming tax benefit and allow consumers a more accessible platform to enjoy a regulated wagering environment.

At present, bettors in neighboring states like Iowa, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas can place wagers online, while South Dakota only houses retail sports betting in Deadwood. Hence, Nebraska appears in stark contrast, a land where the allure of online sports gambling seems to hang suspended, enshrouded in hope and uncertainty, actively waiting for the tides to turn.