Nebraska Voters Push Anti-Casino Lawmaker to Introduce Gaming Legislation

Posted on: January 21, 2021, 11:53h. 

Last updated on: January 21, 2021, 01:02h.

Nebraska Sen. Tom Briese (R-Albion) never wanted the Cornhusker State to be home commercial gambling. The people, however, said otherwise.

Nebraska casino gambling sports betting
Nebraska politician Tom Briese, seen here, isn’t a fan of gambling. But he nonetheless has introduced legislation to regulate casinos after voters backed referendums in November. (Image: AP)

Following three voter-backed ballot referendums that altered the Nebraska Constitution to allow the state to authorize commercial gambling at racetracks, Briese is adhering to the people’s wishes.

The voters in November delivered a mandate and that is they want the casinos at race tracks and they want the property tax relief that provides,” Briese said. “It is incumbent on us to ensure the will of the voters is respected.”

Initiative 429 passed with 65 percent support. The initiative changed the state constitution to allow lawmakers and the governor to pass laws that allow licensed racetracks to incorporate slot machines and table games. The two other initiatives form a gaming commission, and enact a 20 percent tax on gross gaming revenue stemming from casino operations.

Bills Set Casino Regulations

Legislative Bills 560 and 561, introduced by Briese, determine various regulations that will govern Nebraska’s forthcoming commercial gaming industry.

LB560 authorizes the state’s licensed horse racetracks to bring slot machines and table games to their facilities. The bill additionally permits on-site sports betting.

The statute bars credit cards from being used to gamble, requires background checks for all key personnel involved in gaming operations, creates a system for each licensee to pay its adequate gaming taxes in a safe and efficient manner, and sets penalties for associated crimes such as manipulating a slot terminal.

LB561 increases the age to bet on a pari-mutuel horse race from 19 to 21, the latter being the legal age to play a slot machine, table game, or wager a sports bet. The legislation also would unite the Nebraska Racing Commission into a newly formed agency called the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission. The gaming and racing authority would consist of seven members, including the five current racing commissioners.

Perhaps most importantly, LB561 allows the new agency to set rules and regulations relating to horse racing and casinos. Without such a law, all regulatory amendments to the industries would need to go through the lengthy process of receiving approval from the state attorney general and governor.

“We want as tough of restrictions as anyone in the country,” Nebraska Racing Commission Director Tom Sage told the Omaha World-Herald.  “I want things done right.”

Nebraska Tribe to Operate Racetrack Casinos

Nebraska is currently home to four tribal casinos that operate Class II bingo-based machines. The small gaming parlors are all located in the northeastern part of the state.

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska operates two, the Native Star Casino and Iron Horse Bar & Casino. The Native American group additionally owns and operates WinnaVegas across the Missouri River in nearby Sloan, Iowa.

The Winnebago Tribe’s gaming arm — Ho-Chunk Inc. — largely bankrolled the gaming ballot referendum campaigns. The company donated more than $6.6 million in cash and in-kind contributions to “Keep the Money in Nebraska,” the political action committee that ran ads hyping the benefits of commercial racetrack casinos.

Ho-Chunk has partnered with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association to handle gaming operations at three facilities. These facilities include Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, Lincoln Racecourse in Lincoln, and Atokad Downs in South Sioux City.