A Nebraska senator is arguing casinos in the state should not get tax-increment financing (TIF), which subsidizes property taxes, to build their venues. Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk called on Tuesday to prevent casinos from getting this form of financing, claiming such a subsidy would run contrary to the purpose of TIF.
“Las Vegas can afford to pay for public improvements” associated with casinos in Nebraska, Flood told the Legislature’s Urban Affair Committee, according to Lincoln Journal Star. He also claimed TIF for casinos would be contrary to the will of Nebraska voters, who approved for casinos to be launched in the state in association with licensed horse tracks in 2020.
The senator introduced Legislative Bill 713 in January in an effort to prevent casinos from getting the financing. The proposal passed in 2020 to allow casinos calls for venues to pay a 20% tax on GGR, of which 70% would go to the state’s property tax credit funds: Flood argues this is incompatible with casinos receiving property taxes subsidies to build their venues.
The state’s property tax credit fund, which offsets a portion of property tax bills, was touted as one of the reasons for voters to pass the proposal, Norfolk Daily News reported at the time. According to Flood, Nebraska communities have “a vested interest” in seeing economically disadvantaged areas being redeveloped, to which TIF funding contributes.
On Tuesday, Flood criticized an Omaha City Council decision to authorize up to $17.5 million in TIF for a proposed $220 million WarHorse Casino at Horsemen’s Park. The senator said that using the tax break for multimillion-dollar casinos that are going to be built without any such assistance is “just plain wrong” and “should be prohibited.”
Rendering for the WarHorse Omaha Casino
"Why exempt casinos from paying property taxes if it (casino gambling) is about property tax relief?" Flood asked, according to Journal Star. In the meeting, Christy Abraham, legal counsel for the League of Nebraska Municipalities, challenged Flood’s take and opposed the bill, suggesting that it "limits local control" while noting that casinos still will pay property taxes.
Tax-increment financing allows developers to negotiate a loan to help cover redevelopment costs in areas that have been designated as blighted, in an effort to attract developers who might otherwise pass on the area.
Flood, however, argues Nebraskans “don’t need to incentivize anybody” to build a casino in cities such as Lincoln and that while he won’t object to the already-approved Omaha plan, going forward, using the subsidy to help construct casinos should not be allowed.
“Whatever your views are on gambling, we should all agree that casinos have no place taking millions of dollars in property tax subsidies for their development,” Flood said according to Hastings Tribune. He said the Omaha WarHorse casino is projected to generate about $45 million annually, thus not needing TIF to work.
During the hearing, State Sen. Carol Blood asked why it would be appropriate for the Legislature to tell local government officials, which ultimately approve or deny TIF in their jurisdictions, how to conduct business. “My concern is local control,” she said.
The Urban Affairs Committee did not end up taking action on Flood’s bill after the Tuesday hearing.