Nebraska – and specifically Omaha – was one of the nation’s hotbeds for illegal gambling through the 1930s, but things in the gambling industry have calmed significantly since then. In fact, Nebraska is one of the few states with significant lobby groups dedicated specifically to the prevention of the *expansion* of gambling within the state.
Population: 1.88 million (2014 est.)
Area: 77,421 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 19
Number of Casinos: 3
• The University of Nebraska football team has sold out every home game since 1962.
• In Nebraska, it is illegal for any “person who is afflicted with a venereal disease” to marry.
• The world’s first-ever rodeo was held in North Platter, Nebraska, in 1882.
• According to Robert Turner, the credited inventor of Omaha Poker, in a 2014 interview, “As far as I know, there is no Nebraska connection to the name of Omaha poker, but in the first Pot Limit game at the Golden Nugget, it seemed to me there was a guy from Omaha who played every day.” (Turner called the game Nugget Poker.)
Since its foundation in 1854, Omaha was almost immediately known as a locus point for vice: Steday trade in gambling, alcohol and prostitution. Its convenient location on the Missouri River and self-proclaimed status as a “gateway to the West” brought many a pioneering spirit – and quite a few hustler types – through the city throughout the 19th century.
And Omaha adapted nicely to a rapidly-changing economy based on a rapidly-changing America. The gambling business stayed monolithic in Omaha when the railroads came and when stockyards became the top industry in the burg. A guy named Tom Dennison arrived in 1893 and by 1900, he’d established himself as both “King of Poker” in the town and a kingmaker in city and state politics. Thanks to his influence, Dennison controlled the illegal activity in Omaha in four decades before his death in 1934.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the same year saw Nebraska lawmakers legalize pari-mutuel betting at the state’s horse racetracks. The recent wave of prohibition-style attitudes and general backlash against organized crime-run gambling, all other forms of gambling were clamped down upon in Omaha and elsewhere. Only in 1958 was charity bingo legalized, and lottery-style raffles were allowed in ’67.
While Nebraska legislators could not shield the state from the legal implications of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) passed in 1988, they have kept installation of casino gaming in Nebraska to a minimum. In 1992, two Native American-operated bingo halls began offering slot machine games, but expansion of both venues or to the industry in general is heavily resisted by certain special-interest groups.
Indeed, when a full-scale casino was proposed for the Omaha area in the 1990s, anti-gambling interests quickly formed the group Gambling With the Good Life (GWGL) and brought on University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football coach Tom Osborne (there is no bigger celebrity in the state) as chairman. The group managed to kill all such attempts at expansion of gaming in Nebraska until the late 2000s.
In 2011, the Ohya Casino opened in Niobrara, but the game offerings are limited to slot machiens and video poker – no table games are allowed. Legislation to introduce greater gambling freedom in Nebraska have been defeated by GWGL and others in 2012, ’13, ’14 and ’16.
Three Native American-run casinos are open for business in Nebraska, but these may only offer slots, video poker, electronic keno and such games. The Ohya Casino & Resort in Nebraska is the newest and largest venue, offering some 400 electronic games. The Rosebud Casino in Valentine and the Ironhorse Bar & Casino in Emerson offer just about 100 slots/video poker games each.
The age to play the gambling machines in Nebraska is a US-standard 21 years. However, Nebraska is a bit of a weirdie in that the minimum age to play the lottery is *19*. Nope, that’s not a typo, and Nebraska is the sole state to have this requirement.
Beyond Tom Dennison, who takes the title of Nebraska’s First Great Gambler, there’s Warren “The Oracle of Omaha” Buffet. Probably the most visible of all Nebraskans in the 21st century, Buffet is currently flush with cash enough that he can afford to host the world’s most prestigious invite-only poker tournament.
Most of the details of the tournament are shrouded in secrecy (the invite list is based in a private club), we do know that the ante is $10,000 and typically 150-200 top CEOs, celebrities and world-class athletes play. We also figure Buffett is the winner of his own tournament in 2017; as he was quoted in a 2012 Forbes magazine article, “I'm going to keep coming back until I make it to the final table. That should happen about the same time the Cubs win the World Series.”
Nebraska state law provides for a lottery (which was established in 1993); also founded at that time wiere local municipal lotteries. Beyond this, pari-mutuel betting is legal at the state’s horse tracks and legal casino gambling – though no table games or poker – may be found at the state’s three Native American-run casinos.
While the pro-gambling forces attempt to expand gambling in Nebraska in any number of ways – for example, proposed bills in 2013 included those which would allow more slot machines at licensed casinos and would make the playing time between keno draws shorter (so as to allow more draws per hour/day) – the anti-expansionist band remains strong enough to hold off such challenges.
As long as GWGL and its ilk continue their efforts to stop expansion of online gaming – and even the state’s racetracks are on board – any change to Nebraska gambling laws is highly unlikely.