A new bill seeks to introduce limits on the number of Nebraska racetracks developing casinos.
US.- Although the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission is moving forward with rules to allow casino gambling at Nebraska race tracks, the General Affairs Committee has heard a bill this week that would refine the rules and put a limit on numbers.
Legislative Bill 876, introduced by Albion senator Tom Briese, would change several provisions of the Nebraska Racetrack Gaming Act. The bill would prohibit new racetracks from being located within 50 miles of another racetrack. Racetracks that existed on November 1, 2020, in Lancaster, Adams, Hall, Douglas, Platte and Dakota counties would be exempt.
The bill would also require racetracks to hold a minimum of five live racing days a year by January 1 ,2026. Prior to that, the bill would require at least one live racing day during a licensee’s first three years of operation.
LB876 would also:
- create a self-exclusion list for problem gamblers who wish to be barred from casinos and racetracks;
- reduce the license period for a race track from 20 years to five and increase the licensing fee from $1m to $5m;
- increase penalties under the act from a Class I misdemeanor to a Class IV felony; and
- allow the state Racing and Gaming Commission to assess larger administrative fines and penalties on gaming operators.
Briese said the bill would provide well-regulated gaming and help casinos succeed financially. He said: “I don’t think the public wants to see a racetrack at every I-80 interchange. I think this bill contains provisions that will help ensure a viable casino industry and a viable horse racing industry. I further think these provisions are consistent with Nebraska values.”
Casino developer Lance Morgan has given his support to LB876. He said allowing too many casinos would cause each facility to be smaller, making Nebraska less competitive with established casinos in other states.
Nevada voters first approved casino gaming at licensed tracks in 2020. At the time, that meant six potential casinos in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Hastings, Columbus and South Sioux City. Since then, plans for seven new “racinos” have emerged, leading to calls for a cap.
The proposed limit to casinos has resulted in some unusual alliances. 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, have both offered support for the legislation.
Loontjer said LB876 would regulate casinos effectively and ensure that racetracks are not established solely to house casinos: “We’d hate to see the casino industry abuse the horse racing industry and use them as a pawn,” he stated.
Lynne McNally of the Nebraska Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association also testified in support of the bill. She said requiring a minimum number of race days would promote horse racing in the state and prevent the establishment of too many racetracks.
“If you allow another facility to open so close to us, that will gut our purse structure before we even have the benefit of one dime of increased revenue,” McNally said.
John Hassett, director of Aksarben Equine, testified in opposition to the bill. Aksarben Equine hopes to build a track in Bellevue, but the bill’s 50-mile restriction would prohibit that. Hassett said that market surveys show that the Omaha area could accommodate a second racetrack and casino.
“It’ll keep more money in Nebraska, generate more money for property tax relief and generate more money for horse race purses,” Hassett said.
Also opposing the bill was Bellevue Mayor Rusty Hike. He said the bill “creates winners and losers” by prohibiting a racetrack in Bellevue. Without a casino in Sarpy County residents there would continue to go to casinos in Iowa, Hike said.