Nebraska is the 16th largest state in the US, characterized by an expanse of flush plains perfectly suited for ranching and farming. As such, it has a relatively low population density with only the 37th largest populous of 1,868,516 (est. 2013). A century ago, gambling was huge business in Nebraska, but not of the legal sort. Many forms of gambling have been outlawed for decades in Nebraska. Our aim is to figure out, according to the laws of the state, whether online poker is one of them.
There are many online poker players in the Cornhusker States, a good portion of which continue to toss chips over the internet to this day. Despite the events of Black Friday in 2011, some international poker sites are still perfectly willing to accept players from Nebraska and most other US jurisdictions, but whether it’s legal or illegal for Nebraskans to participate is a matter of debate.
Land-based Gambling in Nebraska
The land-based gambling industry in a state will often give us some insight as to the local government’s views on casino and poker games in general. Nebraska was once the home of the largest gambling sector in the US, assisted by its largest city, Omaha, being considered the ‘Gateway to the West’ during the California Gold Rush of the mid- 1800’s. Technically, all gambling was prohibited, but with organized crime and corrupt politicians playing a huge role, the laws didn’t make much of a difference back then. In 1934, pari-mutuel horse racing was legalized, followed by charitable bingo in 1958 and charitable raffles/lotteries in 1967. In 1998 simulcast racing was permitted.
Throughout the years, Nebraska has stood firm on its aversion to casino style gambling on games that involve a significant element of chance. In 2004, three initiatives were introduced with the goal of permitting casino gambling in Nebraska, but voters shot them down at every turn.
Deciphering the Laws of Nebraska as they relate to Online Poker
The laws of gambling in the Cornhusker State are found in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature, Chapter 28, Sections 1101 through 1107.
|Section||Text||Meaning (in re online poker)|
|28-1101. Terms, defined.||(4) A person engages in gambling if he or she bets something of value upon the outcome of a future event, which outcome is determined by an element of chance, or upon the outcome of a game, contest, or election, or conducts or participates in any bingo, lottery by the sale of pickle cards, lottery, raffle, gift enterprise, or other scheme not authorized or conducted in accordance with…Nebraska…||Because poker does contain an element of chance, it must be considered gambling in Nebraska.|
|(5) Gambling device shall mean any device…or equipment that is used or usable for engaging in gambling, whether that activity consists of gambling between persons or gambling by a person involving the playing of a machine. Gambling device shall also include any mechanical gaming device, computer gaming device, electronic gaming device, or video gaming device which has the capability of awarding something of value…except as authorized in the furtherance of parimutuel wagering…||A computer or mobile device used for the purpose of real money online poker could be construed as a gambling device.|
|28-1107. Possession of a gambling device; penalty; exemption.||(1) A person commits the offense of possession of a gambling device if he or she…possesses, or conducts or negotiates any transaction affecting or designed to affect ownership, custody, or use of any gambling device, knowing that it shall be used in the advancement of unlawful gambling activity.||Owning a computer used for the purpose of real money online poker could be considered possession of a gambling device.|
|(3) Possession of a gambling device is a Class II misdemeanor.||The penalty for possession of a gambling device could range from a slap on the wrist (no jail time or fine) to as high as 6 months in jail and/or $1,000 fine.|
|28-1110. Gambling; prosecution; not in violation of jurisdiction where conducted; no defense.||It shall be no defense to a prosecution under any provision of this article relating to gambling that the gambling is conducted outside this state and is not in violation of the laws of the jurisdiction in which it is conducted.||It is not a viable defense to state that the gambling that took place occurred in a jurisdiction where it is legal. This basically means that an online poker player can’t tell the court the website was based in a legal offshore jurisdiction therefore it is legal for them to play. If the player is physically located in Nebraska when the wager was made, it is illegal gambling.|
|28-1111. Gambling device or record; money used as a bet or stake; forfeited to state.||Any gambling device or gambling record possessed in violation of any provision of this article, or any money used as a bet or stake in gambling activity in violation of any provision of this article, shall be forfeited to the state.||A computer or mobile device used for playing online poker, as well as any winnings derived from the game, become the property of the state upon conviction.|
|28-1112. Defendant, status as a player; affirmative defense, when.||In any prosecution for an offense defined in this article, when the defendant’s status as a player constitutes an excusing condition, the fact that the defendant was a player shall constitute an affirmative defense.||If an online poker player only gains from personal gambling winnings, and makes no other form of profit from the activity (i.e. profiting from an affiliate program, referral program, etc.), it is an adequate defense to the court that they were only participating as a player.|
Is Online Poker Illegal in Nebraska?
Probably. Sections 1101 through 1111 of Chapter 28 seem to insinuate that online poker is illegal. A computer/mobile device used for real money online poker could easily be defined as a gambling device. Gambling on anything that is not state authorized, particularly any game that involves an element of chance, is definitely illegal. It’s that last section, 28-1112, that muddles the delineation of the law. If the player is just a player, and is not advancing gambling activity or profiting from gambling activity (both of which require making a profit from something other than personal gambling winnings), that is said to be an adequate defense. Unfortunately, it is not clarified what constitutes “an excusing condition”.
All things considered, online poker seems to fall within a grey area of the law, but if I had to choose yay or nay, I would lean more towards it being prohibited than being legal to pay online poker in Nebraska.
Is Nebraska working to Legalize Online Poker?
No. As stated above, the Nebraska population has been staunchly opposed to the idea of legalizing any form of casino style gambling for years now. Not a single piece of legislation has been introduced on the topic of regulating online poker, and that’s not likely to change anytime in the next few years.
Online Poker Players from Nebraska
An agricultural state with a low population density and probable laws against online poker, there aren’t many identifiable online poker players residing in Nebraska. Those we do know are Donnie “donnie05” V. of Lincoln, Andrew “amatthews3416” Matthews of Lincoln and Ana “heras11” Heras of Hastings.
Land-Based Card Rooms in Nebraska
There isn’t a lot of gambling action to be found in the Cornhusker State due to the verboten status of all casino gaming. There are only 4 land-based casinos in Nebraska, all Native American owned, but none of them offer a live poker room.
Iron Horse Casino
Location: Emerson, NE
Poker Room: No
Lucky 77 Casino
Location: Walthill, NE
Poker Room: No
Location: Niobrara, NE
Poker Room: No
Native Star Casino
Location: Winnebago, NE
Poker Room: No