Nebraska Horseracing Machines One Step Closer

Nebraska legislators defeated a filibuster to kill a measure allowing voters to decide if they want historic horseracing at the state's racetracks. The constitutional amendment would not require the governor's signature. Two years ago Governor Dave Heineman vetoed a similar measure.

Lawmakers in Nebraska recently defeated an attempt kill a proposal to allow gambling on historic horseraces. A yes vote by 30 of the legislature’s 49 members is required to place Legislative Resolution 41CA on the November ballot. The measure is the latest attempt to allow wagering on previously run races via video terminals at state racetracks. The terminals reveal information about the horses’ and jockeys’ past performances but not their names or the dates, places or times of the races. Lawmakers approved a measure allowing historic races two years ago but Governor Dave Heineman vetoed the measure. The current bill, a constitutional amendment, would not require the governor’s signature.

Supporters said the proposal would provide much-needed funds for the state’s horseracing industry, leading to more live races, better purses for horse owners and a new racetrack in Lincoln.

But state Senator Beau McCoy of Omaha said, “I see this as the camel’s nose under the tent and the long, slow slide to allowing casino gaming in the state.” He and other opponents believe the video machines used to display historic horse races actually were slot machines and that allowing them would not solve the horseracing industry’s problems. Earlier McCoy led a filibuster against the measure. He said, “We’re really asking the people of Nebraska if this were to go to them to vote on in November to vote on not just an expanded form of gambling, but on a new form of wagering that is not pari-mutuel wagering.”

State Senator Lydia Brasch of Bancroft also objected, and said, “So, the attempt to bring in these machines that look like, act like, feel like a slot machine will take the place of a live, breathing, running, beautiful creature that we see in our pastures.”

The bill’s sponsor, state Senator Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha said, “This would allow these devices at licensed tracks only. You can’t just go install these in your backyard. It doesn’t work that way. And this is meant to prop up and provide another source of revenue for an important industry in our state that actually provides thousands of jobs.”

Two years ago it was estimated that historic horseracing would generate $60,000-$80,000 net annually, in addition to the initial $400,000 raised in licensing fees.

After the filibuster ended, Lautenbaugh asked for and the legislature approved an amendment directing about half the money raised by historic racing to public school funding, about half to pay for property tax relief and the remainder going to the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund.

Five other states offer historic race wagering.