Samir Mowad walks into Harrah’s Casino and surveys the Tag Lounge. This will be the sports book.
It’s Friday afternoon, about 3:30, and Tag, a small bar tucked into the corner of the casino, is full. There’s a wall made up of 16 55-inch TVs, and they make up three giant screens, showing auto racing, golf and baseball live action.
Some of the patrons are playing the video gambling games at the bar and some are watching the sports and nursing their early happy hour drinks. It’s not a lively scene.
Of course, that could change come the fall.
By September, the Tag Lounge could be a full-fledged sports book, where customers flock on a Saturday afternoon to watch every college football game and wager on how many yards Adrian Martinez will throw for in the second half.
Or maybe the NFL is their thing, and they’re here on Sunday. Maybe they’re here to watch and bet on the games. Maybe they’re here because every game is on and they might not feel like betting, but if they do, it’s rather convenient.
Or maybe they don’t have the money for that trip to Vegas for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, but they can meet the boys at Council Bluffs instead.
For the sports betting underground in our area, the possibilities are endless.
And right now, they are still just possibilities.
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Last Monday night, Iowa lawmakers passed a bill that would legalize sports gambling and betting on fantasy sports websites.
Mowad, the senior vice president and general manager of Harrah’s and Horseshoe casinos in Council Bluffs, expected that to happen on Friday. But late Friday afternoon, Mowad said the Iowa legislature closed its session — meaning Reynolds has 30 days to sign the bill.
That’s 30 days when a lot of politics could come into play.
“The governor and her caucus have been supportive of it,” Mowad said. “But now that the bill is (public), some of the groups that got left out (of receiving a cut of the revenues) may start to lobby against it.”
Mowad wouldn’t offer any predictions. But there’s an air of confidence throughout the state of Iowa that sports books are on their way. Plans are being made.
At Prairie Meadows casino and race track, on the east edge of Des Moines, they’ve already transformed the fourth-floor horse simulcast area into a Vegas-style sports book and bar. They’re just waiting on a signature.
Another Iowa establishment, the Grand Falls Casino and Golf Resort just east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is planning to start taking sports bets as soon as the governor gives the green light.
Here in Council Bluffs, Mowad said Harrah’s will expand the Tag Lounge. Over at Horseshoe, they will build a new facility that will become a sports book.
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission will have to come up with rules for sports betting. Mowad said they’ll adopt the rules and hope to open sports betting between Sept. 1 and mid-October.
My first question to Mowad was this: Will betting be allowed on the local teams — Iowa, Iowa State and Nebraska? The Huskers, because Mowad says the majority of the revenue at the two casinos comes from Nebraska.
“Yes, you’ll be allowed to bet on those teams,” Mowad said. “But you can’t do any in-game betting on individual players in the state of Iowa. For instance, no prop betting on whether a running back for Iowa will run for more or less than 100 yards. Or something that involves an Iowa State player.
“There are no restrictions on Nebraska players, except for one case, when they are playing an Iowa team. And that happens once a year.”
The world of sports wagering has existed in Nebraska for decades. The guy next to you at the bar could be a bookie. So could your high school coach. National studies show that gamblers come in all shapes and sizes and ages, some that might shock you.
Legalized sports gambling will bring some of it out in the open. But what does that mean? Will the number of sports bettors in our area double? Triple? Or will bettors who prefer to deal with a bookie remain under wraps?
It’s the great unknown about this topic, which may become a visible part of our lives very soon.
“I don’t think everybody is going to dump their bookie and start playing with us the first day it opens,” Mowad said. “Bookies extend credit. And we’re not going to be extending credit at the casino.
“The experience comes in. We plan to create an area where people are going to want to come and hang out. I think it may attract guys just like myself. I love sports, and when I’m in Vegas, I may place a sports bet or two.
“We have no illusions that this is going to replace Las Vegas. Vegas is very unique for a lot of reasons. I used to go there with a group of friends. But now I have two kids. I don’t do that every year like I used to.”
Mowad understands the sports books might draw bigger crowds for special occasions — such as the Super Bowl or NCAA tourney or college football and NFL afternoons. The gamblers who might have to attend a kid’s soccer game, or other events, will still use a bookie.
“It’s unlikely to change their habits,” Mowad said. “The only difference is if we give them a great area to hang out in, they can come and still use their bookie. Even bookies use apps.”
Mowad said his casinos plan to offer online sports betting with a catch: Bettors can’t use the apps unless they’re in Iowa (and they have to sign up for an online account at the casino, to make sure they are of age). The thinking there is, if you’re a Nebraskan crossing the river to use the Harrah’s phone app, you’re probably just going to go to the casino.
Who and how many is the question. Mowad doesn’t pretend to know. But he’s been in enough sports books to know their appeal.
There is certainly incentive for casinos to build sports books. Brad Rhines, senior vice president and chief strategic officer at Prairie Meadows, told the Des Moines Register that the average casino customer is 55 or older. He said sports betting is a “21-34, 21-44 demographic.”
“We don’t think it will be this huge financial boon,” Mowad said. “But we don’t know. As a sports fan, nothing frustrates me more than being in a place where they don’t switch over to other games. If we can create this unbelievable area ...
“Let me put it this way: If I had the best sports bar in five states, there will be enough people sitting in my bar, eating my wings and drinking my beer. They may bet on their own app, and that’s fine, as long as they are eating my food.”
It was just a year ago that none of this seemed possible. And then the Supreme Court opened the door to sports gambling last May. And Iowa legislators just kicked the door open Monday.
Now Iowans are just a governor’s signature away from welcoming more of their Nebraska friends — and their wallets — across the border this fall.
“I’ve learned that when it comes to bills and politics, all bets are off,” Mowad said.
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After his days as a three-sport standout at McCook, Jeff Kinney came to Nebraska in 1968 to play quarterback. But two other QBs also joined the Huskers that season. So Kinney moved to flanker and eventually I-back, and that's where he flourished over the next three seasons.
Decorated college and high school football and wrestling star. High school teacher, coach and administrator. But Charles Bryant was foremost a pioneer. Bryant, an all-state athlete at Omaha South before graduating in 1950, became the first black football player of the modern era at Nebraska in 1952.
George Flippin was once described by Lincoln Star sports editor Cy Sherman as a "charged bull, into which was bred the tenacity of the bulldog, the ferocity of the tiger and the gameness of the man who knows no fear." He was Nebraska's first black athlete, in 1891, before black athletes were banned by the university from 1917 until the late 1940s.
Former Broken Bow cowboy Paul Tierney has won arguably the two most prestigious titles in rodeo. He finished his 10-year professional career by topping $1 million in career earnings, and his 2008 induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame makes him the most accomplished cowboy from Nebraska.
Shelby, Nebraska, is one of the flattest towns in one of the flattest states in America. The elevation difference between the highest and lowest points is 7 feet. It is literally a town without a hill, one of the last places you’d expect to produce an Olympic gold medalist in bobsled. But that didn't stop Tomasevicz.
Rhodes did it all. The Ansley native held three state high school track records at the same time (vault, long jump, high jump); was player-coach of Ansley’s first football team in 1920, which went undefeated that season; helped Ansley win a pair of state basketball titles; and played baseball. After graduating from high school in 1922, Rhodes went on to earn eight varsity letters at Nebraska — three in football and track, and two in baseball.
After a stellar three-sport high school career at Cambridge, Houghtelling surprised many by signing to play volleyball instead of basketball at NU.
Even though basketball had been her first love, she’s never regretted the decision.
Ruud is Nebraska’s all-time leading tackler with 432 stops. As a senior captain in 2004, he was a third-third All-American, a first-team All-Big 12 performer and NU’s defensive MVP. He was selected in the second round of the NFL draft. Ruud played eight NFL seasons, leading Tampa Bay in tackles for four of those.
Trotter starred at Omaha Creighton Prep, where he was a two-time all-state selection, and was Nebraska's first — and only — player named to the McDonald's High School All-American team.
Grand Island coach Doug Whitman once noted that swimmer Scott Usher was "one to watch." As it turned out, the entire country had the chance to watch Usher. Usher finished seventh in the 200 breaststroke in the 2004 Olympics and in 2008 fell just short of returning for a second Olympics.
Ron Kellogg is considered one of the best pure shooters in Nebraska prep history. The Omaha Northwest grad wasn't bad in college, either, according to then-Kansas coach Larry Brown.
Skinny 14-year-old Geddes left his father, eight brothers and eight sisters in Jacksonville, Florida, and arrived at Boys Town in 1962. Geddes had played football just once before arriving but took such a beating in a sandlot game against older players that he didn’t plan to play again. But Boys Town coach Skip Palrang spotted him and talked him into giving it a try. He eventually thrived and helped the Cowboys win a state title.
The 1978 Holdrege graduate turned down multiple scholarship offers from other schools, including a football and track package from Iowa State, to walk on with the Nebraska football team. The 150-pound walk-on became an integral part of the Husker offense. The three-year starter ranked in the top 10 in receptions and yards by the time he left in 1982.
While a career in the NBA never materialized for the Omaha Benson and Iowa graduate, Woolridge played overseas for 13 years. Leagues in Turkey, France, Germany, Venezuela, Israel and Cyprus. And the money was good. "To do what I loved professionally for 13 years, I can't complain about it," he said in 2013.
Louise Pound, in so many fields, was the trailblazer for women's athletics in the state. And this while becoming a preeminent educator in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English department over a half-century. In 1890, Pound won the Lincoln city tennis championship. She captured the university's men's singles and doubles titles in 1891 and 1892 — the only female in school history to receive a men's varsity letter.
The best softball teams used to hail only from the West Coast. Keaton changed that. The former Papillion-La Vista and Nebraska star put Nebraska softball on the map with her dominating presence and performances in the pitcher's circle.
Once the last player to survive the cut on Nebraska's recruiting board, Noonan ultimately became a household Husker name. He earned first-team All-America honors and was named the Big Eight athlete of the year as a senior. His 12 sacks that season are tied for third in school history, and his 24 career sacks are tied for fourth.
John Parrella was Nebraska raised, the pride of Grand Island. NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride once ranked him among the top three defensive tackles he had ever coached.
One press clipping described Hopp, a first baseman and outfielder, as "a dynamo who, perhaps more than anyone else, typifies the dashing, hell-for-leather play” of the St. Louis Cardinals. Hopp's 14-year career spanned five teams and as many World Series appearances, including back-to-back World Series victories with the Yankees. In all, he won four World Series and was an All-Star in 1946, when he hit .333 and drove in 48 runs for the Boston Braves.
Born in Holdrege in 1939 and raised near Axtell, Anderson began his quest at an early age and eventually built a makeshift shooting range as a high school senior at Axtell. After attending Nebraska for one year, Anderson joined the U.S. Army so he could pursue his Olympic dream.
Hare picked Nebraska from a slew of offers after starting for four years for Omaha Tech, where he averaged 26.4 points a game as a senior in 1963. Tech won the Class A title that year after going 22-2 and cruising through the state tournament by an average of 21 points a game. That team was voted into the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame and recently was chosen as having one of the best starting fives in Nebraska high school sports history.
Osborne remains just one of two men to win The World-Herald’s high school (1955) and state college (1959) athlete of the year awards. In high school, Osborne was all-state in football and basketball in 1954-55 and helped Hastings win a state title on the hardwood. In track, he won the discus at the state meet and placed second in the 440-yard dash. The future coach and congressman also stood out on the baseball diamond and had a pro football career.
Hoppen turned down a Kentucky scholarship offer. He also said no to Notre Dame, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado. And yes to Nebraska. Between 1982 and 1986, the 6-foot-11 center became NU’s all-time leading scorer, and he did it with clinical efficiency.
The only native Nebraskan to win a national wrestling championship at NU, Vering took his success to the international level, representing the U.S. in a pair of Olympics, claiming a world silver medal and winning gold at a Pan Am Games.
As a junior, Henry won golds for Bellevue West in the 200, 400 and long jump. Henry went on to set a national age-group record in the long jump and was part of the USA Junior World Team in 1995. At Nebraska, Henry won the NCAA indoor and outdoor long jump titles in 1996. All told, Henry was a three-time Big 12 champion and a 10-time All-American.
Kindig-Malone won gold medals at state in the long jump, hurdles and relays, but it wasn’t until she started getting scholarship offers from UCLA, Iowa and NU that she realized she might be good. Later, she won Big Eight heptathlon and pentathlon titles at Nebraska, becoming an All-American and helping the Huskers win their first indoor national championship in 1982. Kindig-Malone also won a Class C state basketball title with Hastings St. Cecilia in 1977.
Sauer and Bernie Masterson — No. 43 on the Nebraska 100 — paired together in the backfield to usher in one of the first great runs for Husker football. The two led Nebraska to Big Six championships in 1931, ’32 and ’33, when the Huskers went undefeated in league play. Sauer was an All-American in 1933 for the second-ranked Huskers. He also lettered in track, baseball and wrestling.
Cantwell, from Crete, won four straight Class B shot put and discus titles, including three consecutive all-class gold medals in the shot. She was a two-time NCAA shot put champion at SMU and was the 2002 U.S. indoor and outdoor champion as well as a 1999 world indoor bronze medalist. Cantwell also competed in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
Orduna lettered at running back for the Huskers in 1967, ’68 and ’70, running for 1,968 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Omaha Central graduate also played three NFL seasons.
A two-way football player even during his professional career with Green Bay, Charles Brock helped revolutionize the linebacker position in the pros while helping the Packers win two NFL championships. The Columbus native was recalled as a fierce competitor by the late Lee Remmel, a team historian who covered the Packers for nearly 30 years.
Lindsey, a Millard North graduate, was a standout defender for Notre Dame, the U.S. national team and San Jose of the WUSA, in which she played three seasons.
The image of Cory Schlesinger barreling into the end zone for the winning touchdown in the 1995 Orange Bowl burns brightly in the memories of Nebraska football fans. Schlesinger did some barreling in his day, but prided himself on being a bruiser. That trait served him well, especially in his 12 years with the Detroit Lions.
Schmidt represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics in the 800. Four years later, she returned to run the 800 and 1,500. The Olympic appearances are accompanied by plenty of other honors: a 2006 U.S. indoor 800 championship; a pair of U.S. outdoor silvers in the 800 (2006, 2008); and while with the North Carolina Tar Heels, two outdoor 800 titles and a distance-medley relay championship.
Mann was a jack of all trades, but a master of all of them, too. “Les did everything well. He was tops at football, basketball, track and baseball. He would have been equally great in other sports,” said Mann’s close friend, Scott Dye, in a newspaper account following Mann’s 1962 death in a car accident.
Dan Brand’s path to an Olympic wrestling medal was anything but typical. He competed in football, basketball and track at Bellevue High, but never was all-conference. He made the Nebraska freshman team in basketball, but after being cut, he signed up for the intramural wrestling tournament. He won and went on to compete in the Olympics.
Vinciquerra played football at Tech High and Creighton University, but is better remembered for making the 1936 U.S. Olympic boxing team. A natural heavyweight, he won a national Golden Gloves championship that year as a 175-pounder. He had a pro record of 42 wins (26 by knockout), four losses and five draws from 1937 through 1941, fighting over 20 times in 1937.
The résumé almost seems too much to comprehend. Four-sport star at Lincoln High. Nebraska football great. Pittsburgh Pirates baseball signee. Four-time football All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers.
At Beatrice, Hohn was a four-time state hurdles champion, a state basketball champion and an all-state football player. As a senior in 1960, he was the Nebraska high school athlete of the year.
Lincoln High football went 23-1-1 during Debus' three seasons on the varsity squad. Debus also played basketball and was all-state in American Legion baseball. But his best sport was track and field, where at state he single-handedly nearly doubled the point total of the second-place team.
Skinner won two high school state golf titles, two junior state championships and the 1980 state match-play crown. She went to Oklahoma State, where she was a two-time Big Eight champion and was named Golf Magazine’s 1982 college player of the year. On the LPGA Tour, Skinner won events in 1985, ’86, ’87, ’93, ’94 and ’95 before leaving in 2003.
Woohead rushed for the second-most yards (7,962) in the history of college football in all divisions and won the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II’s version of the Heisman) twice. He finished his NFL career with 2,238 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing, along with 2,698 yards and 17 touchdowns receiving.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive tackle was a model of consistency. The three-time all-conference pick flattened plenty of defensive players, with an incredible one sack allowed in 46 career games with the Huskers. As a senior, he captained Tom Osborne's first national title team.
A 2009 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, the former Iowa and Omaha Central great was a two-time All-America linebacker, three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and an NFL draft pick. At Omaha Central, he was twice named to the All-Nebraska team.
At Nebraska, Cahoy — an Omaha South grad — earned four NCAA national championships — two on the horizontal bar and two on the parallel bars. He made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team.
As a senior in 1985, Rathman produced the best season ever by a Husker fullback. He ran for 881 yards, a position record by 164 yards. He went on to win two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in a nine-year NFL career. In 1989, he led NFC running backs with 73 catches, and he capped the season with two touchdowns in a Super Bowl victory over Denver.
A left-hander with a nearly unstoppable fadeaway hook, Witte, a Lincoln High grad, became a three-time All-American (1932-34) at Wyoming. He was the first collegian to score more than 1,000 points in a career (1,069), earning him the nickname "One Grand Witte."
Losing was something Olson never dealt with at Omaha Northwest, going 27-0 with a 0.76 ERA, 276 strikeouts, seven no-hitters — including four in the state playoffs and one in the state championship game — and four state titles before playing at Auburn and being drafted fourth overall in the 1988 MLB draft.
Stecher won the world wrestling championship on July 5, 1915, in Omaha, beating Charlie Cutler in two falls at Rourke Park in front of 15,000 fans. Stecher wore a championship belt studded with 308 diamonds. He became a celebrity across Nebraska. In 1920, he reportedly earned a winner’s purse of $40,000 — four times what Babe Ruth earned the year before.
As a senior, Jones earned all-state honors in football as a halfback and then as a point guard, helping Boys Town win the Class A state basketball championship. But where he really excelled was track. He was the state champion in the mile run, became an All-American at Iowa and was a two-time Olympian.
The first woman from Nebraska to make the U.S. Olympic team, Frost competed in the discus at the 1968 Mexico City Games. In June 2015, at the age of 70, Frost set one world (javelin) and two American records (shot put, discus) for the 70-74 age group. She already owned two USA Track and Field age group records in the discus — 60-64 and 65-69.
A native of St. Paul, Nebraska, Randy Rasmussen was part of one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history when he blocked for Joe Namath in the 1969 win over Baltimore. He was selected in the 12th round of the draft by the Jets. He stayed for 15 seasons and 207 games, including 144 in a row.