US Gambling Legislation Updates: Nebraska, Alabama, North Dakota, and Virginia

  • A Nebraska proposal to legalize casino gambling during fairs passed the first Senate vote
  • Two state lottery bills await consideration by an Alabama Senate committee on Wednesday
  • North Dakota's online sports betting launch may have to wait until 2025 if a new policy is backed
  • Virginia lawmakers are debating a bill which could legalize certain slot games for another year
Dice on the US flag
Lawmakers in Nebraska, Alabama, North Dakota, and Virginia are currenly considering various gambling legislation, with all states seeing updates to progress this week. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Update, March 22, 2021: The North Dakota Senate decided against House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 3032 to have voters decide on the legalization of sports betting in the state. Monday’s 23-24 vote was a reconsideration of the measure after its initial rejection during Friday’s Senate session.

Alabama’s Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee on March 17 voted in favor of Senator McClendon’s lottery proposal. The bill pushes for the sale of lottery tickets via stores, kiosks, and a mobile app. The session also saw legislators green-light a measure that would see a gaming commission in charge of casino regulation in the state.

Keeping the ball rolling

So far in 2021, lawmakers in a number of states have introduced new gambling legislation to capitalize on the rapidly growing industry. This week, four such states saw updates to that process.

In Nebraska, senators approved a measure which would allow casino gambling during fairs. The proposal advanced 38-5 through the first of three required votes.

According to Senator Del Marsh, two Alabama lottery bills will go to committee on Wednesday. They are both seeking to introduce a state-run lottery in Alabama for the first time.

a 24-month delay for online betting

A North Dakota Senate committee considered sports betting legislation on Monday, but its sponsor has suggested a number of alterations. One such change would see a 24-month delay for online betting after retail launches.

Finally, Virginia lawmakers may have inadvertently legalized slot-like gambling machines at convenience stores, restaurants, and truck stops for another year. The governor’s office reaffirmed his opposition to the extension this week. 

Senator Aguilar’s fair measure

In November 2020, Nebraska residents voted to legalize casino gambling at the state’s licensed horse racetracks. Currently, two combined gambling bills, LB 560 and LB 561, are progressing through the legislature.

Together, Nebraska’s new gambling bills would legalize slot machines, card games, and sports betting. Although the legislation does not directly mention sports wagering, state lawmakers decided to include it within the games of chance category earlier this month.

As these bills progress, Senator Ray Aguilar is seeking to change a historic law which currently forbids casino gambling within proximity of a fair. He proposed new legislation in January this year aiming to eradicate the rule. On Tuesday, the bill progressed through the first of three votes in the Senate, despite some opposition from gambling opponents.

This could prove good news for Fonner Park, a thoroughbred horse racing venue situated next to the Nebraska State Fair. The racetrack intends to build a casino once legislation passes. However, current law requires any casino in that area to close from late August to early September when the fair is typically operational.

Fresh life to Alabama lottery hopes

Alabama is currently one of just five states without a lottery. After Senator Del Marsh’s gambling expansion bill fell short on the Senate floor last Tuesday, hopes for any form of legal gambling in Alabama seemed dead in the water.

However, Senator Jim McClendon breathed fresh life into state lottery plans by proposing his own bill. He introduced SB 214 shortly after Marsh’s bill failed to pass.

“My hope is to get through legislature a bill that allows Alabamians to play lottery games just like they would play in any state that surrounds us,” McClendon said at the time. 

The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee will consider the legislation on Wednesday. According to Sen. Marsh, the committee chair, lawmakers will debate two lottery bills during the meeting.

Online gambling setback in North Dakota

North Dakota lawmakers set the wheels in motion for the legalization of sports wagering after the House approved a pair of bills in late February. The first measure, House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 3032, would allow residents to have their say on sports wagering on the November 2022 ballot, while the second sets out a framework for a legal market.

On Monday, HB 1234 – North Dakota’s sports wagering bill – made its way to the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation. Upon presenting the bill, its sponsor, Rep. James Kasper, suggested a number of alterations. These included a 24-month period for retail sportsbooks to get a headstart on internet gambling, a ban on credit card deposits, and the prohibition of collegiate betting on North Dakota teams.

North Dakota’s digital market may not get the green light until 2025

If lawmakers introduce the 24-month delay for online operators, North Dakota’s digital market may not get the green light until 2025 at the earliest. Explaining his reasons for the alterations, Kasper said mobile operators would “garner 80-90% of the market” if permitted to launch at the same time as retail.

The Senate committee ended the hearing without voting on the changes.

Cloudy meaning in Virginia

Lawmakers in Virginia may have accidentally legalized slot gaming at convenience stores, restaurants, and truck stops for another year by approving a bill intending to crack down on unregulated gambling.

In 2020’s General Assembly session, Virginia legislators approved the slot machines for one more year until June 30, 2021. According to local news website Virginia Mercury, state lawmakers seemed to agree to ban the machines after that point.

During the 2021 General Assembly session last month, lawmakers approved legislation with an unclear provision. The bill detailed different forms of illegal unregulated gambling, from which it specifically excluded charitable games and other “regulated gambling.” Under the legislation, the latter can continue until June 30. 2022, with some legislators believing this to include the slot games.

Since then, debate over the provision’s ramifications has been rife, with its patron Del. Don Scott agreeing to its uncertainty. Governor Ralph Northam is currently reviewing the approved bills and has repeatedly confirmed his opposition to the extension. In a statement this week, Northam’s office said his action on the bill would reflect his stance.