Panel advances bill to try to prevent surge of new casinos

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A bill designed to prevent a surge of new casinos throughout Nebraska cleared a key hurdle Tuesday in the Legislature.

The Legislature’s General Affairs Committee advanced a measure that would allow casinos in the six Nebraska counties that already have licensed horseracing tracks.

Anyone who wants to build a casino in another part of the state would have to wait for the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission to conduct a detailed study looking at the potential impact on the state. The commission would approve or deny licenses based on its analysis.

The study would be due by Jan. 1, 2025.

Sen. Tom Briese, the committee’s chairman, said the measure seeks to strike a balance between developers and communities who want to build casinos and gambling opponents who worry about casinos saturating the state. Earlier proposals would have put specific limits on the number of casinos and the distance between locations.

“I think we’ve truly reached a middle ground on this,” said Briese, of Albion.

The counties with existing tracks are all in eastern and central Nebraska. They are Douglas, Lancaster, Adams, Dakota, Hall, and Platte.

The bill comes after Nebraska voters legalized casino gambling in a 2020 through a ballot measure bankrolled by Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. It allowed casinos at horse racing tracks.

The measure now heads to the full Legislature for debate.