(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LINCOLN — A bill that seeks to limit, at least for now, the number of gambling casinos that can be established in Nebraska got out of the gate Tuesday but is far from the finish line.
Senators advanced Legislative Bill 876 from first-round debate on a 30-0 vote, but one leading state senator complained that western Nebraska was being snubbed by the bill.
State Sen. John Stinner of Gering said limiting casinos initially to only the six existing Thoroughbred racetracks means that his Panhandle constituents will have at least a five-hour drive to the nearest gambling palace in Grand Island.
“Through all of this process, you’ve excluded half of the state,” said Stinner.
In November 2020, Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved casino gambling at horse racetracks, operations called “racinos.” But senators have differed on whether the vote meant racinos only at the state’s six existing racetracks, or elsewhere.
Several communities, including Kimball, Gering, North Platte, Norfolk and Bellevue, had proposed racinos in hopes of luring visitors and adding jobs.
LB 876, crafted by the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee and its chairman, Albion Sen. Tom Briese, seeks to limit the number of racinos by requiring any new tracks to submit an extensive study about the impacts of a new casino/racetrack as part of their application for a license from the newly renamed Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission.
Briese, under questioning, didn’t know how long it would take to compile such a study. The bill says studies should be completed by January 2025 or “as soon as practicable.”
Stinner said that means it could take three years to get approval and then another two years to build a casino, thus cutting out areas west of Grand Island for five years.
Stinner said he has drafted an amendment to the bill that allows at least two racinos, immediately, west of Cozad.
“This is 100 to 200 jobs for western Nebraska we could really use,” the senator said.
Two senators that have racetracks in their districts, Mike Moser of Columbus and Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, spoke in favor of the bill. Moser said if too many tracks are allowed, some may close.
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