he Nebraska Legislature’s General Affairs Committee held public hearings Monday on a series of bills addressing the just-passed casino initiatives, three months after approved casino gambling in the state. The initiatives included a constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling at licensed horse race tracks and laws regulating the casinos and earmarking most of the tax revenue to property tax relief.
Two of Monday’s bills, introduced by State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, the committee chairman, were aimed at ensuring that the initiatives are implemented smoothly, Omaha World-Herald reports.
Among the others was Legislative Bill 73, introduced by Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln. The bill would add county agricultural societies to the list of entities that are to share tax revenue from the yet-to-be-constructed casinos. Her bill would not touch the property tax money but would redirect 10% of the revenue intended for the counties and cities where the casinos are located. Geist said she offered the proposal to provide a steady stream of funding for the Lancaster Events Center, which was hit hard by the pandemic. She said she was putting in the request early, before other entities made similar requests for casino tax revenue and before the counties and cities build gambling money into their budgets.
Two other measures, Legislative Resolution 26CA, introduced by Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, and LB 545, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would allow sports betting statewide.
The initiative language allowing for all “games of chance” at the race track casinos already allows sports betting at those locations.
However, Sean Ostrow, representing DraftKings, argued that not all Nebraskans will want to drive to the casinos to bet on games. He also said competition in sports betting would benefit the state. Lindstrom’s proposal would amend the state Constitution to allow sports betting on a broader basis. Wayne’s bill seeks to legalize sports betting and poker by defining them as games of skill, which would not run afoul of the constitutional limits on gambling.
Committee members took no immediate action on the bills. Much of the hearing was spent on Briese’s LB 560 and 561, which would flesh out the voter-approved laws. Among other provisions, they would limit sports betting to people actually in the casinos, prohibit the use of credit cards for gambling in casinos and allow people to put themselves on an exclusion list. The bills would create new crimes for such things as cheating, manipulating slot machines or allowing underage people to gamble. They would raise the age for betting on horse races to 21, up from 19, to match the age limit at the casinos.
Lance Morgan, the president and CEO of Ho-Chunk, which is now working to open casinos at tracks in Omaha, Lincoln and South Sioux City, said the industry needs some regulations to clarify issues that couldn’t be placed on the ballot measure, such as sports betting. He said the casinos will help Omaha and Lincoln by providing jobs for residents.
Gambling opponents, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, argued that the casinos will increase gambling addictions, leading to an increase in crime and personal bankruptcies.