How Long Will It Take for Nebraska Sports Betting Expansion?

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Oct 13, 2023 12:00 AM
Will Nebraska sports betting ever add more retail locations or online options?

The WarHorse Casino in Lincoln, Nebraska is currently celebrating the one-year anniversary of their opening. As the first state-sanctioned casino, and the only place to currently offer legal Nebraska sports betting, the milestone holds a great deal of meaning. 

It is first and foremost a harbinger of how far The Cornhusker State has come. They went from one of the regions that didn’t figure into the legal gambling equation to dreaming up a multiphase plan around the opening of Warhorse Casino and a number of amenities that remain in progress.

To that end, this is also a time for reflection. Because while sports betting in Nebraska has come so far, there is still a long way to go. Warhorse Casino itself continues to resemble a makeshift operation, and it isn’t quite clear when they will wrap up the next steps in their vision. What’s more, as an operational singularity, they are also a reminder of a familiar refrain: When, and how, might Nebraska sports betting expand into other locations and mediums? 

Though this is a simple question, it’s intensely important. The launch of Nebraska sports betting has reportedly yielded only modest financial gains. While any extra revenue goes a long way when the state previously wasn’t extracting taxes on wagers that people were already making illegally or out of state, it’s clear this market has the potential to be so much more. 

And just as it was for the launch of retail sports betting in Nebraska, the WarHorse Casino remains at the center of the state’s plans to broaden and optimize their gaming options.

WarHorse Casino Hoping to Expand in Ways That Will Improve Sports Betting Experience. 

Right now, Nebraskans can bet on sports by visiting the WarHorse Casino’s kiosks and cashiers, or by using their Nebraska sports betting app. When it comes to using the app, however, you must still be on the WarHorse Casino’s premises. Users are permitted to build their bet slips off grounds, but because The Cornhusker state didn’t license any online sportsbooks in the United States, transactions must be processed on-site. 

Retail-only sports gambling can be a hindrance under any circumstance. As we have covered ad nauseam around these parts, the vast majority of legal bets are placed using online sportsbooks operating in the United States. Remote access to services isn’t just the future. It’s the present. But the access to sports betting in Nebraska is further complicated by a lack of retail locations. 

The WarHorse Casino is currently the only sportsbook in the state. Obviously, depending on where you live, it might be easier to travel out of state. And while long-term plans include the openings of other retail sports betting locations in Nebraska, none of them appear imminent. That puts a great deal of pressure on WarHorse Casino to become a caps-lock, italics-text DESTINATION. They cannot hope to maximize access and profit by being a commuter’s casino—a novelty people only visit for a couple of hours before heading elsewhere. And with that in mind, the operators of WarHorse Casino continue to reiterate they have big plans to expand. As Pat Sangimino from the Lincoln Journal-Star recently wrote:

But for now, the casino is currently being housed in a smaller building, while beyond the parking lot is a construction zone that will someday house a larger, 48,000-square-foot permanent casino, hotel and horse racing track. The dirt work has begun on phase two, which will double the size of the existing casino by October 2024. Meanwhile, work continues on Legacy Downs at WarHorse, a seven-eighths of a mile horse track that is set to be ready in the spring. And — phase three — the addition of the hotel and more casino space, restaurants and lounges and an expanded sportsbook in the coming years, will make WarHorse Lincoln a destination, says [Lance] Morgan [who is the CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska that operates the casino].

State and casino officials had hoped all the phases of this project could be done by the end of 2023 or, if not, 2024. But the exponential interest rates made affording and contracting the work more difficult, which has resulted in the delay of Phase Three, specifically, by perhaps a couple of years.

Bringing Online Sports Betting to Nebraska May Still be the Key to Significantly Increasing State Gambling Revenue

Relative to the limitations in which Nebraska sports betting operates, the big-picture plan to improve access, user experience and revenue seem pretty shrewd. And yet, even casino officials are quick to acknowledge that they’d be better off with the legalization of Nebraska online sports betting.

“Morgan said the bigger boon for the casino might come if the Nebraska Legislature eventually approves mobile betting, which would allow a sports wager to be made from anywhere in the state,” Sangimino wrote. “When Iowa went to mobile betting, its revenues increased ‘by tenfold,’ Morgan said.”

Mr. Morgan is, of course, spot-on in his assessment. Even though brick-and-mortar casinos throughout the United States have been reluctant to loosen exclusivity clauses on their gaming compacts, most understand the direction in which the sports betting industry is already headed. 

The legalization of sports gambling without mobile betting is like running a marathon with your legs tied together. You’ll still get somewhere, but it will take forever, and you ultimately won’t get to the true end destination.

For the time being, though, Nebraska online sports betting laws don’t appear on the cusp of changing. We’ll know more for sure when the state legislature meets again, but the state currently seems focused on perfecting and expanding the retail experience. Most agree that’ll eventually change. Much like the expansion phase of retail sports betting, though, it will probably be a matter of years.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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