Bill would legalize sports betting

Sports wagering would be legalized under a bill considered Feb. 10 by the General Affairs Committee. LB971, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would redefine the state’s definition of a lottery to include wagers on sports contests, excluding high school and youth games.

Sen. Justin Wayne
Sen. Justin Wayne

Wayne said Nebraskans, particularly from Omaha, are crossing the Missouri River into Iowa to gamble at casinos. New changes in federal law will enable people to place bets on athletic contests online through a casino beginning Jan. 1, 2021, he said, which will continue the outflow of money from Nebraska to Iowa.

“The fact of the matter is, Nebraskans are already doing this,” Wayne said. “Gambling happens. Sports betting happens.”

No one spoke in support of LB971.

Nate Grasz of the Nebraska Family Alliance testified against the bill. Legalizing gambling would make the state part of a social ill, he said.

“Making a bet with a friend is one thing, but making the government a partner with and an enabler of the commercialized gambling industry makes government a tool in the financial exploitation of its citizens,” Grasz said.

Omaha pastor James Patterson spoke in opposition to LB971. Gambling projects an easy but false path to financial success, he said.

“In my community, I want to be able to encourage them to do things where the odds aren’t stacked against them,” Patterson said.

Brian Rockey, director of the Nebraska Lottery and Charitable Gaming Division of the state Department of Revenue, also testified in opposition to LB971. He said the bill may be unconstitutional because sports betting does not meet the definition of a lottery as laid out in the state Constitution, which is required for the Legislature to be able to authorize it.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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