Poker license debate begins

The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission (LCC) could issue special liquor endorsements for some poker games under a bill discussed on general file Jan. 13.

LB619, as introduced last session by O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson, would authorize licensing for two types of poker games—draw and community card games. The bill defines community card games as those, such as Texas Hold’em, in which a player combines the cards he or she is holding with community cards that all players share.

Larson said such games are games of skill—rather than games of chance—and therefore would not violate the Nebraska Constitution, which prohibits the Legislature from authorizing additional games of chance.

Players do not have control over the cards they are dealt, Larson said, but skill is required to succeed at poker. Larson said courts in several states that have examined the issue have agreed with this interpretation, and he predicted that Nebraska courts would as well.

“We have to remember that we’re looking at the predominance of skill,” Larson said. “The Nebraska Supreme Court has said that any game that has a predominance of skill is constitutional.”

However, Larson acknowledged that a recent state attorney general’s opinion concluded that draw poker is a game of chance. In response, he offered an amendment to a pending General Affairs Committee amendment to limit the bill’s provisions only to community card games such as Texas Hold’em.

Under the bill, current liquor licensees and nonprofits that otherwise would qualify for a special designated liquor license (SDL) could apply for a poker endorsement or for a special designated poker license (SPL) for events on or off the licensee’s premises.

An SPL would require approval of the local governing body, which could establish criteria for approval of an application. The fee for an SPL would be $40 for each day of the event.

In addition, a licensee would remit 10 percent of the gross proceeds of a poker tournament and 5 percent of the final amount in each pot of a cash game to the LCC. Fifty percent of proceeds would be directed to the state’s Property Tax Credit Cash Fund.

Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz supported the bill and the amendments, saying legalization of community card games could provide property tax relief and bring economic development to rural areas of the state.

“In my community, if you would open up a poker hall—as Sen. Larson says—the tourist traffic would be huge,” Schilz said.

Seward Sen. Mark Kolterman opposed LB619, citing concerns regarding the bill’s constitutionality. In addition, he said, Nebraskans already have access to keno, Powerball and bingo, among other forms of legal gaming.

“I just don’t think we need to expand gambling,” Kolterman said. “We have enough opportunity to gamble in this state.”

The amendment failed on a 14-16 vote.

The Legislature adjourned for the day before taking up a motion filed by Larson to reconsider that vote.

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