A new legislation is seeking to introduce limits on the number of Nebraska racetracks developing casinos. Legislative Bill 876, introduced by State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, chairman of the General Affairs Committee, sets requirements for the approval of new racetracks in the state, thus restricting the number of casinos.
Briese said he introduced the bill because he considers Nebraska voters want a “well-regulated, financially sound” industry, reports Norfolk Daily News. “I don’t think the public wants to see a casino at every exit on Interstate 80,” he said at a hearing on the bill, on Monday.
LB876 would require that a new track be at least 50 miles from other existing ones. The legislation, if passed, would also require tracks in the state to offer at least five racing days a year, notably up from the one they currently have to offer.
The State Sen. also offered an amendment, which would expand the required distance between tracks to at least 75 miles apart, except for Nebraska’s three counties of 100,000 or more people -Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy-. At least 15 days of racing would be required under the amendment.
Nevada voters first approved casino gaming at licensed tracks in 2020 which, at the time, meant six potential casinos in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Hastings, Columbus and South Sioux City. Since then, plans for seven new “racinos” have emerged, which led to discussions on introducing a cap.
The proposed limit to casinos has resulted in unusual alliances, further reports the cited news source. Both Pat Loontjer, executive director of anti-casino group Gambling with the Good Life, and Lance Morgan, president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, showed support for the legislation.
Ho-Chunk Inc. is backing the distance restrictions but not the exemption for large counties. According to the Winnebago Tribe, this would hurt its proposed casino for Horsemen’s Park, in Omaha. The nation has also plans for a second racino at Lincoln Race Course, in South Sioux City.
Proposed Warhorse casino in Omaha.
"We would have to cut our capital investment in Omaha by $100 million. It would lop off 300 jobs. It would take off $3.75 million in taxes for the city," Morgan said, according to KETV. He further said it would affect their ability to compete with casinos in Council Bluffs and a casino at Carter Lake: "We've got to build a strong competitor now to keep the opposition at bay.”
Loontjer, on the other hand, backed the proposal stating it would help protect the horse racing industry from closing, and in order to minimize the damage she expects gambling to cause communities in the state.
Meanwhile, John Hassett of Aksarben Equine Inc., which proposed a horse track and casino called Belle Vue Downs, opposed the distance restrictions, arguing market studies show that the metro area can support two casinos, thus boosting horse racing and increasing revenue for the state.
"Keep the money in Nebraska, generate money for property tax relief, help horse racing. Allowing Bellevue to have a casino helps accomplish all three of those goals," said Hassett, reports KETV. "Please don't leave us at the post. Give us a chance to get this up and going.” He was joined in his arguments by Bellevue Mayor Rusty Hike.
Horse industry groups said they would like the number of live horse races to increase, in an effort to revitalize the industry in the state. Meanwhile, Tom Sage, executive director of the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission, took no position on the specifics of the bill, explains Norfolk Daily News.