Nebraska Sports Betting Won't Feature New Race Tracks Anytime Soon

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Jan 18, 2024 07:00 PM
Nebraska Sports Betting Won't Feature New Race Tracks Anytime Soon

The push for more Nebraska sports betting options began almost immediately after retail wagering services went live last year. And it isn’t about to stop anytime soon.

It reportedly just won’t include the creation of new hybrid Nebraska casinos with race tracks attached. 

For now, anyway.

This is a somewhat bold conclusion to draw when sports betting in Nebraska, despite being legalized in 2021, hasn’t yet been live for a year. And yet, a report to close out the 2023 calendar apparently shows the state has neither the need nor capacity for more race track options.

How was this determination made? Is it final or merely a placehold result? And how does it impact the future of Nebraska sports betting? This report has people talking to begin 2024. It’s important to understand what it all means.

Nebraska Sports Betting Market Apparently Doesn’t “Need” Any More Racinos

Paul Hammel of the Nebraska Examiner relayed the most pertinent details from a report commissioned by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission:

That 111-page “market analysis” issued late last month concluded that Nebraska didn’t need any additional racetracks. That dealt a blow to several communities across the state that [still] want to apply for a state permit to open so-called ‘racinos,’ a racetrack with a casino. Currently, casinos are only allowed at the existing racetracks in Lincoln, Grand Island, Omaha, Columbus, South Sioux City and Hastings. Several communities, including Bellevue, Norfolk, North Platte, Fremont, Kimball and York have also expressed interest in opening casinos.

“The study was done by The Innovation Group, a gaming consulting business based in New Orleans, that was paid $48,000 for its analysis. The analysis of whether new racinos are needed might come into play when the Racing and Gaming Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to allow the transfer of the quarterhorse racing license in Hastings to Ogallala. That would allow the opening of the first casino in the state west of Grand Island.”

State population and the demand it creates is at the heart of an issue that will impact access to Nebraska sports betting. At just under 2 million in estimated residents, The Cornhusker State ranks 37th in total population. The report seems to conclude that a maximum of six locations is more than enough to service a region of that size.

How Does the Report from The Innovation Group Impact Future Access to Sports Gambling?

Sports betting in Nebraska is currently only legal and available at retail locations. That inherently limits the number of expansion options at the state’s disposal. 

Since online sportsbooks in the United States are not permitted to enter the market, bets can be placed at casinos or racinos with sports gambling licenses. And that’s about it. Expanding those options requires increasing the number of licenses for current retail spots. Well that, or creating additional on-site options altogether.

The former path is already being explored. Three sports betting retail locations are open for business in Nebraska. A fourth is expected to join the group sometime in 2025. The sportsbook in question will be located in the under-construction WarHorse Casino in Omaha.

Still, if this latest market analysis is taken at face value, the number of sportsbooks is eventually going to be maxed out. And sure, the overall population may be conducive to something like five to eight Nebraska retail sportsbooks. But the sheer size of the state guarantees not all residents will have convenient access to one.

To that end, geotracking data continues to show that Nebraska sports betting is still losing money to Iowa sportsbooks. For many Nebraskans, driving across state borders and placing an online wager or visiting a retail location is quicker than exploring in-state options. Naturally, this seems to leave The Cornhusker State with one of two options: embrace online sports betting in Nebraska or figure out a way to poke holes in the current market analysis making the rounds.

State Officials Not Sold on Nebraska Sports Betting and Racino Market Analysis

Policymakers in Nebraska have already seemingly chosen their course of action. The legalization of online sports betting does not appear to be on the table—not right now, anyway. Officials are instead pushing back against the analysis provided by The Innovation Group. As Hammel reported:

At least two members of the commission—Tony Fulton and Shane Greckel—along with State Sen. John Lowe told the Examiner on Thursday that the recent report was incomplete. Lowe, who heads the committee that deals with gambling in the Nebraska Legislature, said the report barely mentions the impact on the horse racing industry in the state. ‘I think the whole study needs to be redone,’ the senator said. Fulton, a former state senator and state tax commissioner, said the report didn’t cover all the topics required by the Legislature, which ordered the study to help determine whether the state could support more casinos and horse racing.”

This is mostly good news for gambling enthusiasts. If the report is inaccurate, it leaves open the possibility that The Cornhusker State can, in fact, support more casinos and racing tracks. That, in turn, would lead to more Nebraska sports betting locations.

Still, the current results are nothing if not unsettling for those who want The Cornhusker State to offer more accessible gambling. The gaming commission itself paid for the analysis. They clearly don’t know, for sure, whether aggressive expansion is in the cards. There is a chance Nebraska has maxed out their casino and race-track markets

And if that’s the case, it’s a bad harbinger for the imminent expansion of Nebraska sports betting. The status quo will essentially have to endure. That is, until or unless Nebraska online sports betting gets the green light.

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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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