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Nebraska's Online Sports Betting Hopes Dashed for Now

The odds of legal online sports betting coming to Nebraska this year have become much longer. Major sportsbooks have decided against supporting a campaign for a ballot initiative aimed at amending the state's constitution to permit online sports betting.

In February, four major sports bettors operators – BetMGM, Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel – joined forces with the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska to gauge public opinion on legalizing online sports betting through a poll. This collaboration hinted at a possible push for a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

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Despite a February poll showing 57% support for the amendment, according to Ho-Chunk CEO Lance Morgan, the national sports betting companies have decided against financing a petition drive to bring the matter before voters.

Launching a successful petition drive would require a significant investment. Gathering the roughly 122,000 signatures needed by July, including 5% from voters in at least 38 counties, would necessitate an extensive advertising campaign and potentially paid signature collectors.

The national sports betting giants are prioritizing similar initiatives in states with larger populations this year. Additionally, Ho-Chunk, already heavily invested in casino development projects in Lincoln and Omaha, is unwilling to shoulder the petition drive costs alone, as Morgan explained.

The decision by the companies not to back a petition drive means that online sports gambling will remain illegal in Nebraska for at least another year, possibly longer. Anticipated opposition from influential anti-gambling groups could push it back even further.

Morgan has consistently advocated for the state legislature to legalize online betting, bypassing the need for a ballot initiative. However, given the conservative makeup of the Legislature, this seems unlikely.

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2026 Becomes the New Target

Voters won't have another chance to weigh in directly until November 2026. This continued delay risks Nebraska falling behind neighboring states like Iowa, where online sports betting is already legal.

In 2020, Nebraskans approved amendments allowing casinos at licensed horse tracks, but online gambling wasn't included. As a result, sports betting enthusiasts faced a wait until racetrack casinos secured approval from the Racing and Gaming Commission.

The first licensed casino, WarHorse Lincoln, opened its sportsbook in June 2023 after receiving commission approval in September 2022, though initially without its sportsbook. Despite the lack of legal online options, geolocation data reveals a substantial existing interest, with over 64,000 mobile sports betting accounts traced back to Nebraska.

While Nebraska's casinos generated $89 million last year, sports betting only contributed a small fraction, amounting to less than $1.8 million. Still, this highlights the lost revenue opportunity due to the current restrictions on online sports betting.


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