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Casino bill changes protect keno parlors, limit Husker betting
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Casino bill changes protect keno parlors, limit Husker betting

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Nebraska Legislature

The State Capitol in Lincoln on July 1.

The Legislature on Thursday amended its casino gambling implementation legislation to level the playing field for community keno parlors and ban casino sports betting on games involving Nebraska sports teams when they are competing within the state.

Those changes were designed to meet the objections of a number of senators in an effort to ensure that the bill (LB561) can command the supermajority vote of at least 33 of the 49 senators that ultimately will be required to implement the legislation on final enactment.

Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, sponsor of the bill, questioned some of the changes but accepted what he described as "a reasonable compromise" that appeared to be required in order to be certain that the Legislature ultimately will be able to "respect the will of the voters."

Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved a proposed constitutional amendment last November that authorized the advent of casino gambling in the state while allocating 70% of the revenue generated by a 20% tax to property tax relief. 

Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha sponsored the amendment designed to round up sufficient support to meet the 33-vote threshold.

"We're making sausage here," he told his colleagues, referring to the old adage that if you like laws or sausages, you should never watch either being made.

Lathrop was motivated largely by an effort to protect keno parlors, particularly the keno operation in Ralston that will be in competition with a casino 10 blocks away, and thereby secure the "significant source of revenue" that it provides to the city of Ralston.

Keno parlors provide revenue for community-betterment projects throughout the state. 

Lathrop's amendment does not allow keno gambling with an electronic device at Nebraska casinos, requiring casinos to "live by the same rules" as keno parlors.

The sports betting change was added to attract the votes of a few senators who had strenuously argued against allowing sports betting on the Huskers when they are playing games in Lincoln.

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers of Lincoln urged senators to accept the compromise, which he described as "very reasonable, very smart," in order to ensure that the measure can command 33 votes on final passage.

Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln opposed the ban targeted at betting on Husker games when they are played at home, describing that as "completely illogical (and) puritanical nonsense" when such betting will occur by phone or at casinos across the border in Iowa.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn praised Briese for being "incredibly thoughtful" in shaping the gambling implementation legislation to respect the will of the voters despite his own opposition to expanded gambling, a position that she said she shares.

Lathrop's amendment was adopted on a 31-4 vote, and the bill received 39 votes on its advancement to final-stage consideration. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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