Historic horse racing measure clears second round

Senators took up select file debate March 5 on a measure intended to pave the way for wagering on replayed horse races in Nebraska. The proposal is a carry-over measure that was introduced and advanced from general file last session.

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 or delayed horse races at licensed racetracks where live racing occurs by a pari-mutuel method.

During general file debate in 2013, Lautenbaugh explained that an historic horse race creates a pari-mutuel pool via instant racing terminals from wagers placed on a previously held race at a licensed racetrack. 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 that races run in the past qualify as pari-mutuel wagering.

Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy offered an amendment that would insert the words “on an instant racing terminal” into the measure. McCoy said he opposed the underlying measure as expanded gambling and said senators should be honest and clear about what they are asking Nebraska voters to approve.

McCoy said court cases and attorney general opinions in other states have consistently shown that instant racing terminals do not qualify as pari-mutuel wagering, the only type of horse racing gaming authorized by the Nebraska Constitution.

“The good people of Nebraska ought to know that there are two issues at hand,” he said. “One is instant racing terminals – never used before in our state – and two, that this is not pari-mutuel wagering.”

Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery agreed, saying the underlying goal of LR41CA always has been expanded gambling. Avery said his opposition was based on economic concerns rather than moral ones. Gambling has been shown to produce a net negative economic impact, he said, adding that most of the revenue generated comes from a small percentage of problem gamblers.

“Gambling does not produce a new product … gambling does not add value to an existing product,” Avery said. “In fact, gambling is a sterile transfer of money – generally from people who don’t have it to people who do.”

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers opposed the measure, calling it “casino gaming by another name.” Instant racing terminals are similar to slot machines, he said, adding that problem gambling often devastates families.

“This is the kind of thing that undermines and loosens the moral fabric of society,” he said.

Wilber Sen. Russ Karpisek supported the measure, saying Nebraska is losing millions in revenue to other states by not allowing instant racing terminals. The horse racing industry remains viable, he said, and the state often approves programs that support business interests.

“I do think that this is away to help the horse racing industry,” he said. “I do not think that it’s expanded gambling.”

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop also spoke in support. He said that while the evils of gambling exist, the state clearly is losing money to casino gaming in Iowa.

“When you go over there and you drive through the [casino] parking lot, it’s all Omaha people,” Lathrop said. “You don’t have to guess; you can see their license plates. I look at this [proposal] as an opportunity to intercept some of those cars.”

The McCoy amendment failed on a 16-16 vote.

Senators voted 25-18 to advance the measure from select file.

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