Hearing held on gaming bill amendment

The General Affairs Committee considered an amendment March 29 to a bill that would implement provisions of a constitutional amendment approved in 2020 that authorized games of chance at licensed racetracks.

Sen. Tom Briese
Sen. Tom Briese

A portion of the committee amendment to LB561, introduced by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, would allow individuals to play keno on an electronic ticket purchased at a licensed lottery operator. Currently, keno tickets must be purchased on a paper ticket with cash.

The amendment would allow purchase with an app or debit card linked to a bank account. Credit card payments would be prohibited. In addition, tickets only could be purchased in locations where keno is authorized.

The Legislature adopted the amendment March 17 on a 26-18 vote during general file debate on LB561. Some senators objected to the amendment because the substance of it was not included in the public hearing on LB561.

Briese, chairperson of the committee, pledged at that time to hold a hearing.

Bill Harvey, testifying on behalf of Big Red Keno, supported the amendment. The proposal would provide parity between mobile sports wagering — a provision of LB561 — and keno gaming, he said, and would allow a method of payment that is in place in many other industries.

“If we were any other business in the state, we would have adopted this simple update years ago just as banks, coffee shops, grocery stores and airlines have done,” Harvey said.

Bellevue Finance Director Rich Severson also testified in support of the amendment. He said keno gaming has generated about $7.5 million in revenue for the city, enabling Bellevue to fund domestic violence programs, economic development, parks and other improvements and programs.

Nate Grasz of the Nebraska Family Alliance testified in opposition. He said keno is the second-leading cause of gambling addiction in Nebraska and that allowing individuals to wager on their phones only would exacerbate the problem.

“The voters did not authorize this and there’s no mandate to expand gambling in one area because it was expanded in another,” Grasz said. “Everyone wants to talk about the money, but no one seems to want to talk about where it comes from. For the state to win, it’s our own citizens that have to lose.”

Pat Loontjer, director of Gambling with the Good Life, also opposed the amendment. Enabling Nebraskans to play keno electronically would lead to more reckless wagering, she said.

“It’s all about speed,” Loontjer said. “The faster you play, the faster you lose your money.”

The second round of debate on LB561 has yet to be scheduled.

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