Development restrictions

Nebraska bill requiring impact studies for additional casinos passes Legislature committee

Nebraska Sen. Tom Briese, chairman of the General Affairs Committee.
Reading time 1:53 min

A proposal seeking to prevent a surge of new casinos throughout Nebraska is gaining momentum at the Legislature. The bill, which would initially restrict the development of casinos to the six Nebraska counties that already have licensed horse racing tracks, was advanced by the General Affairs Committee on Tuesday and now heads to the full floor.

Under the proposed legislation, developers seeking to build a casino in another part of the Cornhusker State would have to wait for the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission to conduct a detailed study looking at the potential impact on the state, reports Associated Press. Approval or denial of licenses would be based on the results of this analysis. The study would be due by January 1, 2025.

According to Sen. Tom Briese, who chairs the General Affairs Committee, the proposal strikes a balance between two opposing groups: developers and communities seeking to build new casinos, and gambling opponents who worry about these venues saturating the state. The bill comes after voters in the state legalized casino gambling at horse tracks through a ballot measure in 2020.

Earlier proposals introduced to tackle this issue sought to put specific limits on the number of casinos and the distance between locations. But the committee chairman believes this new bill could be the answer:  “I think we've truly reached a middle ground on this," said Briese.

Legislative Bill 876 was advanced by the General Affairs Committee on a 7-0 vote, with one member not voting. The measure now heads to the full Legislature for debate. If passed, gambling enthusiasts would have to make do, at least initially, with six casinos at existing horse racing tracks in Omaha, Lincoln, Columbus, Grand Island, South Sioux City and Hastings.

The legislation would also imply extra work for proponents of new racinos in additional locations, which include Bellevue, Norfolk, North Platte, Gering and Ogallala. These projects would be required to show whether the sites would help or hurt the existing casinos, and whether they would help or hurt the horse racing industry, reports Nebraska Examiner.

“We have left the door open to the (new) proposals that early proposals would have shut down,” Briese said, according to the cited source. In response to a claim that the western two-thirds of the state would be “shut out” for casinos, the committee chairman countered that it would be up to the Racing Commission to decide whether casinos in the region should be added.

Briese called it a “de facto moratorium” on new casinos since it would take some time before the commission and an applicant could complete the required studies. The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce had initially called for no limit on racinos allowed, while state horse racing officials had recommended casinos to be allowed only at existing racetracks.

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