Legal Gambling in Nebraska
An Overview Of Gambling Laws In The State Of Nebraska
The 2nd most popular form of poker is named after the Nebraskan city of Omaha, which has a rich history of gambling going back to the 1800’s. Nowadays gambling is restricted to 3 tribal casinos with a little pari-mutuel horse racing and a lottery thrown in. There have been some debates about legalizing casinos in recent years. At the moment the preferred option for residents is to cross into neighboring Iowa and legally gamble there instead. This article gives you a detailed overview of the Nebraska gambling laws.
First up below you will find a quick-fire tour of the rich history of gambling in Nebraska. After that I have gone through the different games, and outlined the current legal situation of each one. Next are some important passages from the statutes, along with a legal timeline of key events. Finally you will find a summary and a speculative look into the future for this State.
Nebraska Gambling Laws – A Brief History
When Omaha, Nebraska was first formed in the 1800’s it was known as a hot bed of prostitution, drinking and gambling. This city even has a poker variation ‘Omaha Holdem’ named after it. For many years the gambling was run by underworld figures and the mob, including the legendary racketeer Tom Dennison, who controlled things up to the 1930’s. It is thought that underground gambling was under the control of Italian mob families right up until the 1970s.
This rich and colorful early history contrasts starkly with the opportunities for Nebraskans to enjoy gambling today. The first legal form of wagering involved the 6 licensed racecourses in this State, and covered on-track pari-mutuel betting. This was popular entertainment for many years, though is now in decline with the number of racing fixtures dropping rapidly. Simulcast betting did not help boost revenues. Interestingly the horse racing lobby is lobbying against casino legislation – saying this would reduce attendance further. In other States the ‘racino’ concept of adding casino games to racetracks to give them more appeal has met with considerable success.
Casino gaming is only available in 3 tribal casinos nowadays, and the biggest of these, Ohiya, which opened in 2011 only has 400 machines and no table games. This does not compare well with casinos elsewhere, especially the one over the river in Council Bluffs Iowa, where many Nebraskans make the short journey, enjoying a wider range of casino games. There is some debate about licensing casinos, however the latest attempt to legislate was shot down in committee very quickly indeed in 2012.
That leaves charitable bingo, lottery and pull-tab games to enjoy. Poker tournaments do run, though no entry fees can be charged – restricting these to free-entry bar league games.
Nebraska Gambling Laws – What Forms Of Gambling Are Legal?
Casino Games: Yes, there are no table games spread in Nebraska, though you can play slots and video bingo type games in 3 tribal casinos. Many Nebraskans cross over into Iowa, where they can enjoy a wide range of casino games. This leak of potential revenue has been used to argue for the legalization of class 3 casino games in this State.
Online Casinos: No, there is no specific mention of internet gambling in the Nebraska statutes. As in many other States it is assumed that the wide ranging ban on any form of gambling not explicitly legal covers this.
Live Poker: No, at least not for money, you can play in free poker tournaments with real money prizes, and poker leagues do host these. Home or social poker games for real money are not carved out in the laws, though there is no history of busts for small stakes home-games among friends in this State.
Online Poker: No movement towards the regulation of online poker has been seen in Nebraska as yet.
Sports Betting: Pari-mutuel betting at racetracks is allowed in Nebraska, though this sport has been in decline for several years. You can also enjoy Simulcast betting on events from tracks in other States – though only from on-track locations. You can bet on games of skill, for example pool or darts tournaments.
Lottery Betting: Yes, despite some commentators grumbling about it after 20 years, Nebraskans can enjoy in-State and multi-State games.
Bingo Games: Yes, charity gambling, raffles and pull-tab games have a carve-out under Nebraskan law.
Nebraska Gambling Laws – Timeline And Key Statutes
As you might imagine, a State with so many restrictions on the gambling games allowed has an equally tough definition to get around when it comes to their Statutes. The key word used is ‘element’ referring to chance. This allows for games which are largely skill, but still have some random element in them to be easily classified as gambling – so poker loses the ‘skill game’ argument here too.
Here is the definition of gambling from the current laws:
“(4) A person engages in gambling if he or she bets something of value upon the outcome of a future event, which outcome is determined by an element of chance, or upon the outcome of a game, contest, or election, or conducts or participates in any bingo, lottery by the sale of pickle cards, lottery, raffle, gift enterprise, or other scheme not authorized “ (Section 9-629)
Just in case there was any room for doubt as to what should be included in this and what should not, here is what Nebraska law considers a gambling device to be:
“(5) Gambling device shall mean any device, machine, paraphernalia, writing, paper, instrument, article, or equipment that is used or usable for engaging in gambling, whether that activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine. Gambling device shall also include any mechanical gaming device, computer gaming device, electronic gaming device, or video gaming device which has the capability of awarding something of value, free games redeemable for something of value, instant-win tickets which also provide the possibility of participating in a subsequent drawing or event, or tickets or stubs redeemable for something of value… “
Even a video or pinball machine which awards a replay for certain scores would be considered illegal under this definition.
There have not been many events during the legal timeline in this State, those that have passed can be found below.
1934: Pari-mutuel (pooled) wagering on horse races is legalized, though only on-track. There are currently 6 race courses in Nebraska, though it is thought that the industry is in decline.
1958: Charity bingo games legalized.
1967: Raffles and lottery games added to the list of charitable gambling games including the strangely named ‘Pickle Cards’.
2011: Ohiya Casino opens with class 2 casino games, including 400 slots – this is big by Nebraska standards with the other two tribal casinos having only 100 slots each.
2012: Senator Paul Schumacher put forward an amendment that would have set a mechanism in place to approve casinos in Nebraska with voter approval. This did not make it to the floor for a vote, and was killed off in committee.
Nebraska Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future
Compared to neighboring States, Nebraska is relatively conservative in their approach to gambling. With very few casino options, it is hardly surprising that gambling dollars, along with the jobs and tax revenues they generate, travel over the border to Iowa.
With furious internal debate even concerning their long-established lottery and horse racing groups lobbying against casinos on the grounds they might lose business – it does not feel like the situation in this State will be changing any time soon.
As for online poker or other gambling, this does not seem to be a realistic hope for Nebraska residents without some big changes in their Senate first.
History Of Gambling In Omaha
2012 failed amendment