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Nebraska lawmakers advance legislation to limit sports betting, regulate casinos

Nebraska lawmakers advance legislation to limit sports betting, regulate casinos

LINCOLN — A legislative package spelling out the limits of sports betting in Nebraska advanced Monday from the General Affairs Committee, along with measures to make permanent some pandemic-driven changes in alcohol licensing.

The committee members merged Legislative Bill 560 into LB 561 before voting 5-1 to send the measure to the full Legislature. The package fleshes out the trio of casino gambling initiatives passed by voters in November.

Those initiatives included a constitutional amendment allowing casino gambling at licensed horse racetracks and laws regulating the casinos and earmarking most of the tax revenue for property tax relief.

The initiatives didn’t mention sports betting. Opponents, including former Husker football coach Tom Osborne, argued that the bills would expand gambling by providing for sports betting.

But State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, the committee chairman and sponsor of both measures, said the initiative language allowing for all “games of chance” at the racetrack casinos had opened the door to sports betting. He argued that lawmakers should set some parameters for that betting.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, an attorney, agreed. While saying he personally would allow sports betting anywhere and on anything, he warned that not setting limits would create a “free-for-all” at the new casinos.

But Sen. John Lowe of Kearney said he could not support the merged version of LB 561 as long as it included provisions on sports betting. He expressed skepticism about whether that form of betting had been authorized by voters.

Under the merged bill, sports betting would be limited to people in designated areas of the casinos, instead of anywhere on racetrack property. It would prohibit bets on sports of any Nebraska college or university and would prohibit bets on athletes under 18 participating in international sporting events like the Olympics.

The bill would prohibit the use of credit cards for gambling in the casinos and would allow people to voluntarily request that they be banned from casinos because of gambling problems. The bill would require background checks for people applying for gaming operator licenses and would create an enforcement mechanism for paying the taxes. It also would create new crimes for such things as cheating, manipulating slot machines or allowing underage people to gamble.

The measure would also merge the existing State Racing Commission with the yet-to-be-formed Nebraska Gaming Commission, creating a seven-member State Racing and Gaming Commission. It would give the group the power to issue directives to carry out the initiatives, rather than go through the lengthy rules and regulations process.

It also would raise the age for betting on horse races to 21, up from 19, to match the age limit at the casinos.

Committee members added an amendment to the package aimed at helping keno operators compete for players. The amendment would allow people to join a keno game through an electronic app, as long as they were physically in a place where keno was allowed.

The committee also voted to send a proposal to the full Legislature allowing bars and restaurants to continue selling mixed drinks and cocktails to go. Gov. Pete Ricketts allowed such sales through an executive order last year to help the businesses survive shutdowns and restrictions on in-person customers.

LB 72, introduced by Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln, would allow such sales to continue as long as the drinks were in sealed containers and were transported in the trunk or rear of a vehicle. The bill was added to a liquor bill package on a 5-0 vote, with Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha abstaining. He said he wants a mechanism for local communities to be able to weigh in on the expansion of sales.

The committee separately advanced LB 295, introduced by Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln. The bill would allow alcohol to be sold to people in vehicles, which could include people who include alcohol in their online grocery orders or people getting alcohol curbside or from a drive-in.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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