Retail sports betting is now legal in Nebraska after Gov. Pete Ricketts signed a gaming expansion bill into law earlier this week.

Ricketts signed LB 561 into law just days after the state’s unicameral legislature approved the bill by a vote of 44-3. The bill allows the state’s horse racing tracks to open retail sportsbooks and take sports bets. The final iteration of the document did not include online sports betting and will only allow in-person sports betting inside brick-and-mortar sportsbooks.

Nebraska sports betting now legal

It was unknown if Ricketts would sign the bill into law or let the bill pass without his signature. The legislation allows horse racing tracks to also offer “Las Vegas style” gaming, which Ricketts has opposed in the past.

Last year Ricketts wrote a column warning of the social and financial aspects of casino gambling, all while praising the state’s position to remain casino free.

It’s not just about the rankings. There’s a real human cost to casinos. When thinking about casino gambling, it’s important to remember that the house always wins. The allure of hitting the jackpot overshadows the more common reality of players going broke chasing the dream of winning it all. In 2017, Americans lost $107 billion from all forms of legalized gambling.

Residents will not be able to place bets on in-state collegiate programs. The Nebraska legislature adopted an amendment to the bill earlier this month to ban sports betting on in-state collegiate programs in hopes of making the needed two-thirds majority vote more palatable. The in-state collegiate sports betting ban will keep gamblers from betting on the popular Nebraska University football program and Creighton University basketball.

Other states, such as Illinois and New Jersey, also ban sports betting on in-state collegiate programs. New Jersey, however, is exploring a possible amendment to repeal its ban on in-state collegiate sports betting with a vote in its 2021 general election.

History of Nebraska sports betting

Nebraska voters approved three initiatives in the November 2020 general election to allow for a gaming expansion for the state’s six-licensed horse racetracks in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Columbus and South Sioux City. Votes approved a change to the state constitution that allowed for slot machines and table gaming, as well as two initiatives to regulate casino gaming and tax casino gambling.

The approved bill does not include language for sports betting, but lawmakers have since determined they can encompass potential retail sportsbooks in the state. While this news serves as a step in the right direction for those hoping to one day use their mobile devices or computers to place online sports bets, it appears the ability to do so remains a long way off, at least for the time being.