Measure allowing Legislature to authorize casino gaming considered

The General Affairs Committee heard testimony Feb. 25 on a proposed change to the Nebraska Constitution that would allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate casino gaming in Nebraska with voter approval.

LR34CA, introduced by Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher, would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the general election ballot that would allow the Legislature to authorize and regulate any game of chance, lottery or gift enterprise.

Nearly 5,000 slot machines are housed in three Iowa casinos bordering Nebraska, Schumacher said, and each of them is located within 60 miles of the two most populated Nebraska cities. Iowa earns over $400 million in gambling revenue from Nebraska gamblers who travel across the border to play casino games, he said.

The loss of revenue to bordering states from gambling should be considered by the Legislature, Schumacher said, but it currently is prohibited from permitting gambling by the state Constitution. The amendment would not authorize casino gaming in the state, Schumacher said, but would give the Legislature authority to do so.

Loran Schmit, a former state senator, testified in support of the amendment, saying the Legislature should have the authority to permit casino gaming in the state. Many people who oppose casino gaming in Nebraska are from neighboring states that receive significant amounts of revenue from Nebraska gamblers, he said.

Pat Loontjer, executive director for Gambling with the Good Life, testified in opposition to the amendment, and said that Nebraska is fortunate to have a constitutional amendment that prohibits gambling. If the bill were to pass, she said, it would take only the majority 25 of the 49 senators to permit casino gaming in the state.

“I believe that [the amendment] removes the power from the people and is an attempt to override what Nebraskans have spoken loudly on, which is expanded gambling,” Loontjer said.

Loretta Fairchild, a former Nebraska Wesleyan University economics professor, also testified in opposition to LR34CA, calling it misleading. The proposed amendment does not clarify that its purpose is to remove the prohibition of casino gambling in the state, she said.

“Voters need to know that,” Fairchild said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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