Casino Industry Pushing for Legalization of Nebraska Online Sports Betting

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Mar 12, 2024 08:00 PM
Casino Industry Pushing for Legalization of Nebraska Online Sports Betting

A new member is joining the push for the legalization of Nebraska online sports betting: The Winnebago Tribe.

This is a significant development. The tribe has a casino-developmental company known as Ho-Chunk Inc., which is responsible for overseeing WarHorse Gaming, the operator of sportsbooks in The Cornhusker State at locations in Lincoln and Omaha. All of which is to say: Their support for online sports betting in Nebraska is not a given.

Indeed, WarHorse Gaming stands to benefit from any legal gambling expansion in the region. (As a reminder, Nebraska legalized on-site sports betting in 2021. And it officially rolled out in November 2023.) In many cases, though, tribal operators have bristled at the idea and introduction of online sports gambling. For good reason, too.

Most of the time, the addition of mobile wagering includes allowing major online sportsbooks in the United States to enter the market. This additional competition isn’t always welcomed by tribes. Sure, they typically strike partnerships with established online betting sites in the USA. But that only supplements competition so much. Companies like FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars and many others have longer track records and more extensive reaches. Larger operators, such as ESPN Bet, BetMGM and many more, even struggle to keep pace with FanDuel and DraftKings. The latter two account for the vast majority of the United States online sports betting handle every year.

Imagine, then, being a tribal operator like WarHorse Gaming. You go from having gambling exclusivity when it comes to sports betting to jockeying for business with FanDuel and DraftKings. You can understand why The Winnebago Tribe might not want Nebraska online sports betting added to the mix. And yet, as of now, it seems like they’re prepared to join forces with FanDuel and DraftKings, among others, rather than oppose them.

Ho-Chunk Inc. Partnering with FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Caesars to Pursue Nebraska Online Sports Betting 

In something of a unique development, Ho-Chunk Inc. is teaming up with the most popular gambling sites in the United States to elevate the Nebraska online sports betting agenda. Here’s more information Andrew Wegley of the Lincoln-Journal Star:

FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Caesars have partnered with Ho-Chunk to commission a public opinion poll gauging Nebraskans' interest in a potential amendment to the state's constitution that would allow bettors in the state to place sports bets online. Lance Morgan—the CEO of Ho-Chunk, the parent company of WarHorse Gaming, which operates physical sportsbooks in Lincoln and Omaha—confirmed Wednesday that his company and its partners are behind the poll, which began circulating Monday and will wrap up this week.”

To be sure, commissioning this poll isn’t akin to taking any legal action. Ho-Chunk Inc. and their online sports betting partners are merely hoping the results can help force legal action.

This is a reasonable gamble to make. Legislative branches aren’t always influenced by outside companies. Nebraska online sports betting would be legalized already if FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars and BetMGM had their way. But the support of Ho-Chunk Inc. is notable. Tribes have incredible influence over how state legislators think and act. 

If Ho-Chunk is willing to expand gambling operations to off-site mobile-wagering, members of congress will presumably listen. That’s especially true when you consider there already appears to be a growing demand for Nebraska online sports betting among consumers.

The question, of course, is this: Will the poll result reflect a desire for the addition of online sports gambling in The Cornhusker State?

Preliminary Poll Results Apparently Reflect Demand for the Addition of Online Sports Gambling to Nebraska’s Gaming Catalog

Official results from the Nebraska online sports betting poll have yet to be released, but the preliminary returns apparently reinforce interest. Mr. Morgan teased as much during his interview with the Lincoln Journal-Star:

“‘We don’t want to do anything until we see what happens,’ Morgan told the Journal Star, acknowledging that WarHorse and its allies ‘have big plans’ that could only move forward with the public's support. He couldn't offer early polling results, but said anecdotally ‘it's something people want,’ noting that WarHorse staff are asked about online sports gambling ‘constantly’ at their physical sportsbooks. ‘Sports betting has become legal, and if you're gonna do it, people really—they don't want to drive if they can help it,’ he said. ‘They'd much rather do it from their phone. It’s a natural sort of expansion.’”

Morgan’s comments align with public betting trends. A couple of years ago, an estimated 75-plus percent of sports bets in the United States were processed through online wagering sites. That number is monstrous by itself. And it’s only on the rise.

Concrete numbers have yet to be provided for sports betting in the United States in 2023 and 2024, but we’re already seeing major market shifts. For example, over 97 percent of the Ohio sports betting handle from January was generated by online gambling. That’s absurd. Especially when we’re not talking about a rural market here. Ohio sports betting is among the top-seven active markets in the USA. 

Interest in Nebraska online sports betting is bound to be higher relative to the population. Fewer people are centrally located to retail sportsbooks in rural states. Access to online sports betting is more paramount when residents are more spread out.

Will Nebraska Online Sports Betting Appear on the November 2024 Ballot?

Though Ho-Chunk Inc. and its online sports betting allies hope the answer to this question is “yes,” we can’t know for sure. 

Constitutional amendments can be made expeditiously, but they require a mountain of support. In most cases, they also require expensively funded petitions. Ho-Chunk Inc. is hoping to accelerate that process (and cut campaign costs) by using this Nebraska online sports betting poll as proof of concept.

At the moment, it seems like they have the proof. But will that evidence incite interest among lawmakers? And if it does, will these poll results then translate to voter sentiment during the 2024 November elections?

The answers to these questions will come in due course. And they should arrive no later than April 2024, which is when the Nebraska legislature meetings are currently slated to adjourn.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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