Attempt to override horse racing veto fails

Senators declined May 25 to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would have clarified State Racing Commission members’ terms of office and attempted to assist Lincoln’s horse racing industry.

Introduced by Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek to harmonize the terms of two new State Racing Commission members, LB256 included provisions of LB299, also introduced by Karpisek.

The bill would have allowed a racetrack licensee to contract with another licensee to conduct all but one day of live race meetings on its behalf, and allowed a racetrack licensee in a county with a city of the primary class to contract with another licensee to conduct all live race meetings on its behalf.

Lincoln is the state’s only primary class city.

LB256 was given final approval May 18 on a vote of 26-17, one vote more than the minimum needed for passage. It subsequently was vetoed by Gov. Dave Heineman.

In his veto message, the governor said the bill was an attempt to circumvent a constitutional requirement that racetrack licensees host live horse racing in order to conduct pari-mutuel wagering. He added that the bill also is an expansion of gambling beyond what Nebraska voters have authorized.

Karpisek disagreed that the bill may be unconstitutional, saying any new facility built in Lincoln still would have to be licensed by the State Racing Commission to conduct simulcast racing. He said the measure was not an attempt to circumvent the constitution, but rather to allow Lincoln’s horse racing industry time to build a new track that would have live racing.

“They want to run live horse races in Lancaster County as soon as possible,” he said.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha supported the override motion, saying lawmakers should help the horse racing industry. The Legislature made the decision to move the state fair to Grand Island to make way for Innovation Campus, he said, which is the reason the current Lincoln racing facility must close.

“We need to help untie the hand that we tied behind their back,” Nordquist said. “This industry needs the second biggest market in the state.”

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha opposed the override motion. McCoy said Karpisek’s commitment to the horse racing industry was admirable, but that the state should not take on the financial burden of defending an unconstitutional law.

The override motion failed on a 21-23 vote.

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