It’s January, and that means one thing, a flurry of gaming expansion legislation is being introduced in statehouses across the country. The latest state to add its name to the sports betting and online poker mix is an unlikely one: Nebraska.
The Nebraska bill (LB 990), which has been dubbed a “games of skill” act, is an interesting and potentially problematic piece of legislation.
The bill would legalize games of skill, defined as sports betting, daily fantasy sports, and poker. The bill is devoid of specific references to online gambling, but the nature of the bill and the current gaming situation in Nebraska implies the legislation should be construed as an online gambling bill.
Nebraska Would Be a Small but Important Win
Legal online poker in Nebraska wouldn’t change the US landscape in a meaningful way. The state has a population of 1.9 million and isn’t exactly seen as a hotbed of poker activity.
That said, the legalization of online poker in a state like Nebraska (not known for its gaming) could cause other states that fall into the same category to look at online poker and online gambling.
Online Poker Could Be Legal In 10+ States By 2021
The rapid spread of daily fantasy sports and sports betting has been an irritant to the online poker community. Online poker advocates question why their preferred form of online betting is overlooked in favor of DFS and sports betting.
Online poker has taken a backseat, but slowly but surely, legal online poker is spreading. Four states currently offer legal online poker. Three other states have passed legislation authorizing online poker. And just a couple weeks into 2020, there is active online poker legislation in several other states.
Online poker is up and running in the following states:
The following states have passed legislation authorizing online poker:
And finally, these states have active online poker bills:
And remember, it’s only January. There’s no telling how many online poker bills might pop up in other states.
Tricky Language Could Lead to Legal Challenges
The games of skill designation is an attempt to get around Nebraska’s existing gaming laws and bypass a constitutional amendment to expand gambling. A similar argument was used to legalize daily fantasy sports in New York, and the same argument online poker proponents have used in the Empire State.
The Nebraska Constitution states:
Except as provided in this section, the Legislature shall not authorize any game of chance or any lottery or gift enterprise when the consideration for a chance to participate involves the payment of money for the purchase of property, services, or a chance or admission ticket or requires an expenditure of substantial effort or time.
There are exemptions for games of skill in which the person is participating, but these are listed as darts and billiards, not poker or advantage gambling.
Poker Is a No-Go
Furthermore, several instances indicate the state considers poker a game of chance. Even Texas Hold’ em tournaments are explicitly discussed on the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission FAQ page:
What about Texas Hold’em tournaments?
A: One of the elements discussed in question three, must be removed. Players in Texas Hold’em tournaments cannot be charged ANY FEE or be REQUIRED to give anything of value (consideration) as a condition of participation. In other words, players MUST be able to participate in a Texas Hold’em tournament for FREE or no prizes (reward) can be given in the tournaments.
What other types of tournaments are legal?
A: Most tournaments are legal. If the game or contest is determined by the player’s skill, i.e. Darts, Pool, etc., then an entry fee maybe charged and prizes awarded. However if the game or contest is determined by chance, i.e., casino games, etc., then NO entry fee may be charged or no prizes may be awarded. It should be remembered that non-participants can not wager on the outcome.
It would be difficult to imagine sports betting or DFS being treated differently.
Sports Betting Is Also Off-Limits
Especially when the statute states that sports betting is gambling and not an exempt game of skill, “Bookmaking shall mean advancing gambling activity by unlawfully accepting bets from members of the public as a business upon the outcome of future contingent events.”
Nor can non-participants wager on an event.
If the bill is passed in its current form, Nebraska can expect legal challenges, which is precisely what occurred in New York.
Still, there is some hope in Nebraska, and the Cornhusker state falling into the legal online gambling category would be great news for online poker in the US.