Impact of Nebraska casinos starting to be felt by keno parlors, other forms of gambling

Decline in bets could also be due to time of year, says state lottery official, but impact coming

By: - August 16, 2023 5:45 am

A row of slot machines stands at Harrah’s casino in New Orleans. Three temporary casinos are now open in Nebraska with other communities, including Ogallala and Bellevue, seeking state permission to build. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — The opening of gambling casinos in Lincoln, Grand Island and Columbus is starting to make an impact on other forms of legalized gambling, and the full impact may be yet to come, officials said.

A quarterly report this week on charitable gambling in the state indicated that betting on keno, pickle cards, bingo and local raffles was down 10.6% from the previous quarter. It was 2% less than the same three months (April, May and June) in 2022.

Bill Harvey of Big Red Keno said the decrease can be summed up in one word: “casinos.”

‘Not suprising’

“It’s not surprising,” Harvey said.

The biggest impact has been in Lincoln, where the state’s first legalized casino, the WarHorse Casino, opened 11 months ago.

Lincoln casino
A $200 million casino is planned at the Lincoln Race Course by WarHorse, a subsidiary of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. For now, a temporary casino serves customers. (Courtesy of WarHorse)

Charitable gaming was down 10% in the Capital City during the second quarter of 2023 compared to the first quarter, and it was 11% less than the same period a year ago. Omaha also saw a 10% decline in the second quarter compared to January, February and March, and Norfolk saw a 17% decline.

Harvey said keno parlors in the Omaha area also saw a decrease in betting when the first riverboat gambling casinos opened across the Missouri River in Iowa in 1991.

Lincoln, he said, is likely to see a bigger impact now from casino gambling because it is farther away from Council Bluffs and other legalized casinos.

Full impact coming

Brian Rockey, director of the Nebraska Lottery, said there might be another explanation for the second quarter downturn in charitable wagering: April, May and June traditionally show a decline in wagering over January, February and March because people are spending less time indoors, in places that sell pickle cards and offer keno lotteries.

Rockey, though, said lottery officials are bracing for an impact once permanent casinos are up and running in Nebraska. In other states, it has typically meant a 10% decline in lottery sales.

“We haven’t seen it yet, but we’re kind of waiting,” he said.

Unaudited sales figures for the Nebraska Lottery show a 9% increase in sales for the 2022-23 fiscal year over the previous year, powered mostly by an almost doubling of sales for MegaMillions tickets and a 17% rise in Powerball ticket sales.

Huge jackpots topping $1 billion, Rockey said, drove the increase in lottery ticket sales.

Three temporary casinos so far

Currently, temporary casinos are open at racetracks in Lincoln, Grand Island and Columbus, with a temporary casino slated to open in Omaha next year. Several other communities have also expressed interest, including Ogallala, which will present its case to the State Racing and Gaming Commission on Friday.

Indian tribes also operate casinos in Nebraska in Santee, Emerson, Winnebago and Walthill, as well as one near downtown Omaha in Carter Lake, Iowa.

This week’s charitable gaming also showed that tax revenue from charitable gaming was also down about 10% in the second quarter of 2023, netting $1.87 million.

Harvey said that the State Legislature this year did grant a change that may allow keno lotteries to better compete with casinos.

That change, called “digital, on-premises” betting, will allow customers of a keno parlor or bar to place wagers using their smart phone, rather than having to contact a clerk, as long as they are within a licensed keno location.

Rockey said that some states also permit “I-lottery” or “I-gaming,” which are ways to buy a lottery ticket or scratch-off ticket using a smart phone.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.

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