Sports wagering narrowed, keno parity added to casino regulation bill

A bill on final reading that would implement provisions of a constitutional gaming amendment approved in 2020 was amended May 13 after senators voted to return it to select file.

Sen. Tom Briese
Sen. Tom Briese

Last November, Nebraska voters legalized all forms of games of chance at licensed horse racetracks through an initiative petition drive.

LB561, introduced by Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, would provide the regulatory framework necessary to implement that constitutional amendment. Among other provisions, the bill would allow a variety of sports wagering, including on college games involving Nebraska universities.

Lawmakers voted to return the bill to select file to consider an amendment offered by Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha. The amendment, adopted 31-4, would prohibit betting on in-state college teams when they are playing in Nebraska. It also would require that keno played at racetrack casinos operate in accordance with regulations governing existing keno parlors.

Lathrop said the amendment wasn’t ideal but was necessary to garner at least 33 votes on final reading. The Nebraska Constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote for approval of a bill that substantively modifies a measure passed by initiative petition.

Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh supported the amendment, saying it was necessary to pass much-needed gaming regulation.

“This is a bill that we’ve all decided, and agree, that we need to get done this year,” he said. “The voters passed expanded gambling by ballot initiative and it requires further regulation. [LB]561 is that further regulation.”

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld opposed the portion of the amendment relating to wagering on in-state college teams. He said the prohibition wouldn’t stop anyone from betting on those games but simply would force Nebraskans to place bets in Iowa, where such wagering is legal.

“We’re pretending like this isn’t occurring,” Morfeld said. “It’s literally puritanical nonsense.”

Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth said the amendment would reduce the amount of property tax relief that Nebraskans would receive from legalized wagering.

“I don’t think that’s what the voters intended,” he said.

After adoption of the amendment, LB561 was returned to final reading on a 39-3 vote.

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