Published: March 29, 2022

Bill would postpone construction of new racetrack/casinos in Nebraska

LINCOLN — Proposals to open new horse racetracks, with accompanying casinos, in Nebraska would be put on hold under a bill advanced by the Nebraska Legislature on Tuesday.

Legislative Bill 876, introduced by State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, the General Affairs Committee chairman, cleared the first of three rounds of debate on a 34-0 vote.

As advanced, the bill would not allow new tracks until after the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission completes studies of the horseracing market, the casino gambling market and the socio-economic impact of tracks and casinos. The studies must be done by Jan. 1, 2025.

The delay would, in turn, restrict the number of casinos that could be built in the state. Voters approved a trio of ballot measures in 2020 that legalized casino gambling in Nebraska but only at licensed horse racetracks.

Briese called the bill “a reasonable place to be on this.” He said the study requirements would have the effect of limiting the number of racetracks and casinos in the state but would leave the final decision about approving any new racetrack-casinos up to the commission.

The original version of LB 876 would have limited the number of racetracks in the state by requiring that any new track be at least 50 miles from other tracks.

Nebraska currently has six tracks, in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Hastings, Columbus and South Sioux City. All have announced plans to build casinos.

Proposals for seven new tracks, with accompanying casinos, emerged following passage of the ballot initiatives in 2020. The seven would be in Bellevue, York, Norfolk, North Platte, Ogallala, Gering and Kimball.

The amended version of LB 876 also would require tracks to offer at least five racing days a year, up from one currently, by 2026, with the number increasing to 15 racing days a year by 2031.

It would set the initial licensing fee for casinos at $5 million, up from $1 million under current law, and require an annual review fee of $50,000. It would set out a process for problem gamblers to ask that they be barred from entering casinos and would eliminate the prohibition against racing on Sundays.

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