Proponents of casinos beyond existing six racetracks won Legislature round

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Proponents of casinos beyond existing six racetracks won Legislature round
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LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — Proponents of allowing casinos at more than the six existing horse-racing tracks in Nebraska scored a victory of sorts last week.

They helped block advancement of a bill to delay until 2029 a required market study on the impact of casino gambling, including whether it would have a detrimental or positive financial impact on existing racetrack/casinos.

State Sen. Rick Holdcroft of Bellevue was among those arguing against the advancement of Legislative Bill 311, which seeks to delay a state-required report on the impact of the new casinos from Jan. 1, 2025, until Jan. 1, 2029.

Holdcroft said it would be unfair to make communities like his and others hoping to build casinos to wait until 2030 to find out whether they can obtain a state license to build one.

“Let others give it a try,” he said.

Six casinos allowed

In November 2020, Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved casino gambling at the state’s six existing horse racetracks — so-called “racinos.” But several communities, including Bellevue, North Platte, Ogallala, Kimball and York, have indicated that they want to be allowed to build casinos, too.

It also led to complaints from some western Nebraska officials, because initially, at least, no casinos will be allowed west of Grand Island.

Last year, in a compromise of sorts, a law was passed allowing the six tracks to have casinos. But other casinos would be permitted if a market and socio-economic study showed that additional racinos would not harm existing tracks or have detrimental impacts on issues such as retail sales, property values and divorce rates.

LB 311, however, would change the deadline for the study to 2029, rather than Jan. 1, 2025, as adopted last year.

Kearney Sen. John Lowe, who introduced the bill, said delays in construction of the racinos have meant that Nebraska’s first, full-blown casino — one including blackjack and other table games and not just slot machines — won’t be up and running until 2024. That, he said, would give little time to gauge its impact if a report was due at the end of that year.

Lowe, who heads the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee, told fellow members of the committee Friday that to get a full understanding of the impact of the new casinos, the study’s deadline should be put off until 2029 — after all six casinos might be up and running.

“We need real-world data,” the senator said Monday.

One concern, Lowe said, is whether there will be enough Nebraska-bred Thoroughbreds to field for required races at more than six tracks.

“I’ve always said that Nebraska has six horse tracks and California also has six horse tracks with 20 times the population,” he said.

Holdcroft led the opposition to advancing LB 311 from the committee to the full Legislature for debate. He complained that the state racing commission had not yet begun seeking bids from a firm to do the casino study.

He said Bellevue has big plans for a casino and track and should be allowed to proceed.

Big plans in Bellevue

The developer of that project, John Hassett, president of Aksarben Equine Inc, was among those who testified against LB 311 during a public hearing on Feb. 13. So did a representative of the Sarpy County Board.

Testifying in favor of the bill were representatives of the Lincoln casino, the WarHorse Casino, as well as the state’s Thoroughbred owners and track operators.

Voting against advancing LB 311, besides Holdcroft, were State Sens. Jen Day of Gretna, Jana Hughes of Seward and Jane Raybould of Lincoln. Voting to advance were Lowe and Sens. Brian Hardin of Scottsbluff and Tom Brewer of Gordon. Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh was present but not voting.

A majority vote by the committee was needed to advance the bill, so the 3-4-1 vote fell short.

Lowe indicated after the vote that he’d continue to work on the bill. It would be nice to advance LB 311 this year, he said, but indicated it could wait until the 2024 session.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: [email protected] Follow Nebraska Examiner on and .

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