Nebraska inches closer to launching sports betting; posts $2.8M in casino tax revenue for 2022

Nebraskans are inching closer to placing the first legal sports wagers in the Cornhusker State. The new market nears its launch as revenue from slot machine players continues to roll in, after casino gaming made its debut last year.

Tom Sage, Executive Director of the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission, said that the framework of rules for sports betting, which was given the green light by the commissioners in October, has been examined and approved by the Attorney General’s office. 

According to Sage, the rules will be sent to the governor’s office for review this week, reports The Grand Island Independent. After Governor Jim Pillen signs them off, the regulations will be presented to the Secretary of State’s Office and will become official approximately a week after that. 

Given all of the steps needed, it’s unlikely sports betting will be legal in Nebraska by the time the Super Bowl kicks off in February. And while March Madness could be the state’s introduction to legal betting, the better odds are on wagers being legal by the time college football begins and the NFL resumes in the fall.

In setting up the rules, the Legislature required that all sports wagers be made at casinos operating at the state’s licensed horse racing tracks, which for now includes only the temporary spaces at Grand Island’s Fonner Park and WarHorse Lincoln. 

As reported by The Independent, those casinos generated a little more than $2.8 million in tax revenue from slot machines last year, most of it coming from WarHorse Lincoln, which opened in September.

The casino at Fonner Park generated just more than $97,000 in gaming taxes in its first five days of operation. The Grand Island casino opened on December 27 with approximately 260 slot machines, and during the first week of January, it produced an additional $127,000 in gaming taxes.

Entrance to temporary WarHorse Casino Lincoln

“I am not surprised that the emergence of a casino on our concourse level has gone so smoothly. I have had great faith in our casino partner, Elite Casino Resorts,” Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak said according to the above-mentioned media.

I’m also delighted that the first report of revenue numbers has been so good, but I’ll be overjoyed when I can start routing money into purses for our races to become more attractive to regional horsemen,” Kotulak added.

The opening of the casino in Grand Island appears to have had an effect on WarHorse Lincoln, as the establishment has experienced a decline in revenue for the past three months. Racing and Gaming Commission records indicate that the Lincoln casino generated approximately $759,000 in gaming taxes in December. This was lower than $810,000 in November and $854,000 in October, reports indicate.

In the first week of January, slot machines in Lincoln generated more than $228,000 in taxes. This figure marked a rebound from the previous month, December, when the two casinos combined turned over a total of $856,000 in taxes. This was the highest figure for gaming taxes yet, surpassing even October, the first full month of casino operations in Lincoln.

In 2022, the state’s property tax relief fund grew by $1.96 million due to the money generated from slot machines in Grand Island and Lincoln. Casinos are required to pay a 20% tax on their gross revenue, and 70% of the taxes paid are designated for property tax relief.

Temporary Grand Island casino

Last month, the commission approved a provisional gaming license for Caesars Entertainment to begin work on a Harrah’s Casino in Columbus. As the casino and horse track are being constructed at a different location, Caesar’s sought assurance that they could open a temporary casino in the existing horse racing facility at Ag Park, and then move that license to a new casino resort planned for a different part of the city. On Friday, the Attorney General released an opinion that suggests the Racing and Gaming Commission has the authority to decide whether a license can be transferred. 

Caesars and its racing partner, Columbus Exposition and Racing, have said they hope to have the temporary casino open sometime in March. A temporary casino at WarHorse Omaha could also open later this year.