Historic horse racing debate begins

Lawmakers began debate March 6 on a measure intended to pave the way for wagering on historic horse racing in Nebraska.

LR41CA, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2014 general election ballot regarding historic horse racing. If approved by voters, the amendment would allow wagering on the results of live, replayed and delayed horse races at licensed racetracks where live racing occurs by a pari-mutuel method.

An historic horse race creates a pari-mutel pool via instant racing terminals from wagers placed on a previously held race at a licensed racetrack, Lautenbaugh said. Information is supplied regarding the jockeys, horses and track conditions, he said, excluding information that would allow an individual placing a wager to identify the specific race.

Lautenbaugh said he believes wagering on historic horse races to be legal under current Nebraska law, but introduced LR41CA to provide constitutional clarification for the horse racing industry.

“This would address the constitutional concern that has been raised year after year on this issue,” he said.

Calling the proposal a “Trojan horse,” Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha offered a motion to recommit LR41CA to the General Affairs Committee.

The measure is not a stand-alone constitutional amendment, McCoy said, but rather enabling legislation for LB590 – another bill introduced by Lautenbaugh that would authorize the state Racing Commission to license and regulate pari-mutuel waging on historic horse races.

McCoy said the resolution should be returned to committee and rewritten before being forwarded to Nebraska voters.

“It’s not my job to bring amendments to fix this legislation,” McCoy said. “Let’s get it right for the people of Nebraska.”

Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms supported the motion, saying lawmakers should be sure that a proposed constitutional amendment is in the best possible form before being put to the people for a vote.

Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, chairperson of the General Affairs Committee, opposed the motion to recommit the bill. He said the proposal was simple and straightforward and that the attempt to send the resolution back to committee was simply an attempt to keep it from coming back to the floor for debate.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with LR41CA,” Karpisek said. “If it would come back [to committee], I don’t know what we would do differently.”

Lautenbaugh also opposed the motion, saying the two measures could be considered separately and that he would pull LB590 if lawmakers advanced the proposed constitutional amendment.

“If this amendment moves forward, it is not my intention to proceed with that bill,” he said.

During debate March 7, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers filed a motion to bracket the measure until May 20, 2013. He said senators should not abdicate their duty to make public policy by forwarding the issue to voters.

The public is not informed on the issue, he said, and gaming interests would spend a great deal of money convincing voters to expand gaming in Nebraska in a way that would take advantage of individuals with a gambling compulsion.

“Some things are not to be determined by way of a popularity contest,” Chambers said.

Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island spoke in opposition to the bracket motion and in support of the underlying proposal. Racing long has been a part of Nebraska culture, he said, and is a source of family entertainment similar to a county fair.

After defeating Chamber’s bracket motion on a 14-24 vote, the Legislature adjourned for the week. McCoy’s motion to recommit the bill to committee is pending.

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