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Nebraska’s Gaming Evolution: Racinos and Online Gambling

Nebraska's gambling industry is evolving with the introduction of racinos. This article explores the nearing completion of racino transformations, the potential for online gambling expansion, and the challenges ahead for Nebraska's gaming landscape.
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Branimir Ivanov | Senior News Contributor

Updated: Apr 23, 2024

Nebraska's growth

In a significant development for Nebraska's gaming industry, Harrah's Columbus is nearing completion of its conversion into a full-fledged “racino,” set to open its permanent facility to the public as soon as May 13. This transition represents a broader trend in the state's gambling landscape, as other racetracks are also gearing up to launch their permanent facilities, marking a shift from the introduction of these venues to their maintenance and potential further expansion.

 

Key Points

  • Rise of Racinos: Harrah's Columbus and other racetracks in Nebraska are transitioning into racinos, offering a blend of horse racing and casino gaming. This shift marks a significant change in the state's gambling landscape, aiming to attract a broader audience and compete with neighboring states.
  • Online Gambling Prospects: Despite limited online gambling options in Nebraska, recent research suggests public support for amending the state constitution to allow online betting on human sports. However, gaming companies are cautious about actively pursuing this due to concerns about cannibalizing revenue from physical racinos and potential political resistance.
  • Political Landscape and Challenges: While the gaming industry may be interested in online gambling expansion, significant political figures like Nebraska's former governor Pete Ricketts have opposed such measures in the past. Political resistance, legislative hurdles, and concerns about the impact on physical racinos could delay the legalization of online gambling in Nebraska.

 

Harrah's Columbus, approved by Nebraska regulators, will offer a comprehensive gaming experience, including 400 slots, 11 gaming tables, and a Caesars-branded combination racebook/sportsbook. While live horse racing at the site is scheduled to commence on Aug. 16, patrons can engage in simulcast wagering in the meantime. This marks the initiation of a series of racinos authorized by Nebraska voters in 2020, with as many as six similar venues expected to open permanently.

The concept of racinos has gained popularity in several states as a means to boost revenue and revitalize struggling racetracks. By combining horse racing with casino-style gaming, racinos aim to attract a wider audience and compete with neighboring states' gambling offerings. For Nebraska, this represents a significant evolution in its approach to gambling, moving from a largely limited landscape to a more expansive and varied one.

 

 

The State of Online Gambling in Nebraska

Despite the growth of in-person gambling, online gambling for real money remains limited in Nebraska. The state's Racing and Gaming Commission does not issue licenses for online wagering on equine or human sports, nor does it permit regulated online casino play. Changing this status quo would necessitate amending the Nebraska Constitution.

Recent research indicates that a majority of Nebraskans might support such an amendment, particularly concerning online betting on human sports. A survey conducted by a coalition of gaming companies revealed that 57% of respondents signaled support for the constitutional amendment. However, there's no immediate push for legalizing online gambling. Stakeholders, including Ho-Chunk Inc., the parent company of WarHorse Gaming, are hesitant to commit significant resources to advocate for it.

The level of support for legalizing online gambling in Nebraska, though favorable, isn't strong enough for stakeholders to push for it actively. With physical racinos just beginning to open their permanent facilities, the appetite for further gambling expansion might be limited. Gaming companies are cautious about potential cannibalization of revenue from physical racinos by online casinos.

Operators of Nebraska's racinos might support online gambling expansion once these venues are more established in their markets. However, significant political resistance could be a barrier. Notably, figures like Nebraska's former governor Pete Ricketts have opposed gambling expansion measures in the past, and there could be legislative hurdles or delays in enacting enabling legislation.

 

“Nebraska regulators have given Harrah’s Columbus approval to open its permanent facility to the public as soon as May 13.”

 

 

Despite growing public acceptance of gambling, political will remains a significant factor in Nebraska's gaming industry. In 2020, significant political figures like Nebraska’s then-governor Pete Ricketts publicly opposed the measures to legalize casino gaming at racinos. While voters approved the amendment regardless, there are ways that political forces in Nebraska could act as obstacles in future circumstances. That could include implementing legislation restricting online casinos or delaying the enactment of enabling legislation if voters approve of such amendments.

However, it's worth noting that some gaming industry proponents are already taking steps toward online gambling expansion. Operators of Grand Island Casino & Resort (Elite Resorts) and Harrah’s Columbus (Caesars) are involved in online gambling in other states and are unlikely to stand in the way of potential online casino legalization as well.

 

Conclusion

While the establishment of racinos like Harrah's Columbus represents a significant milestone in Nebraska's gaming industry, the road to legalizing online gambling in the state appears to be more complex. Gaming companies, although interested, are adopting a wait-and-see approach, likely to focus first on online sports betting. Political resistance and concerns about the impact on physical racinos may delay the advent of online casino gambling in Nebraska, making it a distant prospect rather than an imminent reality. Nonetheless, as the state witnesses the success of racinos and their contribution to the economy, the conversation around online gambling may gain momentum in the future.

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