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What are the odds of sports gambling becoming legal in Nebraska?

So the U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the lane for states to legalize betting on basketball.

And on baseball and on football and on Tiger Woods winning one more major.

New Jersey — the state that brought the case — is just weeks from opening betting windows. More than a dozen other states plan to follow its lead over the next two years — another 18 more within five.

What about Nebraska? What are the odds a Husker fan on her way to Memorial Stadium will be able to make a pit stop to play the spread on the Big Red vs. the Buckeyes anytime soon? Or anytime?

Not good, if Gov. Pete Ricketts has a say.

“Sports betting is illegal in Nebraska and we have no plans to change that,” Ricketts said at a Monday news conference honoring high-scoring ACT students.

The governor reiterated his stand against expanded gambling from a fiscal standpoint. “For every dollar in tax revenue, you spend three in social services” to combat the effects of gambling.

State Sen. Tyson Larson questioned those numbers and added: “I agree with the governor on 98 percent of the issues, but on this one he is wrong.”

The O’Neill senator hailed the 6-3 Supreme Court decision — “a great decision, the right decision” — repealing the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and said Nebraska would be remiss in not taking advantage of the opportunity for a legal avenue for sports gambling and the revenue it could bring to the state.

“This is one way of lowering property taxes,” Larson said. “We don’t need to be taking the moral high ground.”

Sports betting is occurring in Nebraska already, said Brendan Bussmann, director of government affairs for a leading gaming and hospitality firm.

“But it’s illegal and it’s unregulated — this (decision) allows states to regulate it properly to capture that illegal market.”

A study conducted by Global Market Advisors — Bussmann’s firm — estimates Nebraska could see as much as $47 million in revenue if sports gambling were legalized here.

One significant hurdle to seeing that money: The state’s constitutional amendment prohibiting gambling. The prohibition has been whittled away over the years by way of petition drive or legislative action to place specific forms of gambling on the ballot.

“If we were smart, we’d pay $60,000 to call a special session and put it on the ballot,” said Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus. “There is already considerable bookmaking in the state, unregulated, untaxed, all cash, under the table.”

Realistically: “If you were to place a bet on it, we won’t do anything to make it happen.”

The NCAA is firm in its opposition.

Larson’s answer: “Maybe they should actually pay their players if they’re making millions on their athletic ability.”

Gambling by young people is Deb Hammond’s concern. The director of Choices, a Lincoln gambling-treatment center, sees the impact of compulsive gambling starting in high school, where access to gaming and betting is as close as a mobile phone.

“We need to minimize our loss here. This is something that is now on a national level. What needs to happen if there’s expansion, is awareness, prevention and a treatment component.”

Back in Las Vegas, Bussmann had followed the Supreme Court case closely, sitting in on oral arguments in December.

In his previous professional life, the former Lincoln resident — a Lincoln Southeast and University of Nebraska-Lincoln grad — spent eight years working in the Husker Athletic Department, two of those under Tom Osborne, an unwavering opponent of gambling, sports or otherwise.

He later advised the former football coach during his congressional campaign.

“Tom’s never going to be convinced,” Bussmann said. “We respectfully disagree.”

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Open Harvest's push for liquor license doomed by concerns about unintended consequences

Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird had hoped city planners could find a solution that would allow Open Harvest to get a liquor license without opening the door to an explosion of liquor licenses in shopping centers in Lincoln's older neighborhoods.

But they could find no magic bullet. And the City Council on Monday denied an exemption that would allow the small grocery store, at 1618 South St., to sell alcohol. 

"I regret we were unable to form a new policy that didn't open a host of other concerns," Gaylor Baird said. "What sounds at first like it could be simple is not simple."

Open Harvest staff and board members told council members the grocery needs to be able to sell liquor in order to remain competitive.

But neighborhood groups across the city argued the city’s strict zoning code — which prohibits new off-sale liquor licenses on property that is less than 100 feet from a home, church, school, park or day care — ended the earlier proliferation of liquor outlets in the city's older neighborhoods.

Neighborhood defenders, though they like Open Harvest and would like to see more groceries in older neighborhoods, worried that creating an exemption for grocery stores would lead to more exemptions, either by a future council or the courts, and more liquor outlets in older neighborhoods.

And not every business that sells liquor off-sale is a good neighbor. Some places that sell alcohol can create problems with late hours, late-night lights and drunken behavior spilling over into residential areas, opponents said.

Councilman Carl Eskridge said he was disappointed, because finding a way for Open Harvest to get a liquor license "just seemed like something we could or should have been able to do." 

"It's the old story of unintended consequences," he said. The options that would let Open Harvest have a license created holes in the net that could have let other people in, he said. 

Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm said most neighborhood associations in her north Lincoln district asked her to vote against the exemption for grocery stores. 

Supreme Court says states can OK sports betting

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for states coast-to-coast to legalize betting on sports, breaking a longtime ban and creating a potential financial boon for states and the gambling industry. The first bets could be placed within weeks.

Despite opposition from the major sports leagues and the Trump administration, the high court struck down a federal law that had barred betting on football, basketball, baseball and other sports in most states. States that want to take advantage of the ruling now will generally have to pass legislation to allow sports books to open. Some, including New Jersey, which brought the case to the Supreme Court, have a head start.

Sports leagues had expressed concerns about any expansion of sports gambling. Their huge businesses could be badly harmed if people thought the outcome of games could be altered by someone who had wagered money on a certain result.

However, the ruling also could be seen as merely bringing an activity out of the shadows that many people already see as a mainstream hobby. Americans wager about $150 billion on sports each year illegally, according to the American Gaming Association. The law the justices struck down forbade state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions and made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.

Stock prices for casino operators and equipment makers surged after the ruling was announced.

Gambling on sports could quickly become widely available, with one research firm estimating that 32 states would likely offer sports betting within five years.

The ruling "opens up the floodgates" for sports gambling in any state that wants to have it, said Daniel Wallach, a sports law expert in Florida.

The decision had been eagerly anticipated by gamblers and also states that hope their cut of legalized sports betting can help solve budget problems. States that have already laid the legal groundwork include New Jersey, where one racetrack said it would begin taking bets within two weeks. Mississippi and West Virginia have also been preparing for sports betting, and gamblers there could be placing bets as early as this summer and certainly before the NFL season starts in September.

Delaware, too, could quickly expand beyond certain bets currently offered at its casinos. Pennsylvania and New York have also made moves to begin sports gambling. However, other states that want to allow sports betting could still see several Super Bowls come and go before people there can place a legal bet close to home.

The Trump administration had urged the high court to uphold the law, surprising perhaps because the president is the former owner of a New Jersey casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, now being remade into a Hard Rock casino resort. All four major U.S. professional sports leagues and the NCAA also had urged the court to uphold the federal law, saying a gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games. They also said that with legal sports betting in the United States, they'd have to spend a lot more money monitoring betting patterns and investigating suspicious activity.

Sports gambling proponents argued that the leagues already do that work and that legal sports betting will make enforcement easier than it is now, when most bets in the U.S. are made illegally. They say state regulators are capable of monitoring suspicious bets, as is done in Nevada.

Monday, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Major League Baseball issued statements saying the "integrity" of their games would remain a priority. Representatives of the National Hockey League, National Football League and NCAA said they were reviewing the court's decision.

Some saw other concerns, including for some gamblers. The ruling "will likely increase gambling participation and gambling problems unless steps are taken to minimize harm," said Marlene Warner, the president of the National Council on Problem Gambling's board of directors. The council said any government body or sports league that receives a direct percentage or portion of sports betting revenue should dedicate some of it to treat gambling problems.

The law the justices struck down was passed by Congress in 1992 and called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the court, "The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make." The court's "job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution," he wrote. "PASPA is not."

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Ginsburg wrote for the three that when a portion of a law violates the Constitution, the court "ordinarily engages in a salvage rather than a demolition operation," preserving what it can. She said that instead of using a "scalpel to trim the statute" her colleagues used "an axe." Breyer agreed with the majority that part of the law must be struck down but said that should not have doomed the rest of the law.

Congress could try to step in again. Sen. Orrin Hatch said he would soon introduce legislation to set national standards for sports betting, but it's unclear whether the rest of Congress will want to join him.

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Judge to decide whether Nebraska must release death penalty records

Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes said Monday that names and other identifying information about members of the state's execution team could be removed from documents that he has refused to release about lethal injection drugs obtained by the state.

"It's physically possible to do so, yes," Frakes said, testifying at a hearing for a case in which the ACLU of Nebraska, the Lincoln Journal Star and The Omaha World-Herald are asking a judge to force him to release the records.

But Frakes made it clear he was concerned redacting the information wouldn't prevent identities of execution team members from becoming public.

Those names are confidential under state law.

Even identifying the state's lethal injection drug supplier might compromise those team members' names, Frakes said. And if their names became public, he said, he fears execution team members or their families could be threatened or harassed.

Lancaster County District Judge Jodi Nelson ultimately will decide if the documents are public records and whether the state should be ordered to release them. The documents include photos of drug packaging, purchase orders, emails between a prison employee and the drug supplier and between the DEA and the prison, and an invoice related to the drugs. 

Assistant Nebraska Attorney General Ryan Post said the entities seeking the records couldn't show that the employees wouldn't be identified if the records were released.

"The case simply doesn't get off the ground," he said.

Post argued that when the Legislature passed the law making the team members' identities confidential, it created an express exception to public-records laws.

He called the lawsuits a "back-door means to frustrate the state's ability to carry out the death penalty."

Shawn Renner, a Lincoln attorney who represents the newspapers, argued the documents are public records and the easy answer is to redact information that identifies execution team members and release the documents.

He suggested Frakes could ask the drug supplier to not release the name of the prison staff member who ordered the drugs.

Frakes said he hadn't done so, but could.

Renner said it seemed the state wanted those seeking the records to prove what someone else might do with the documents if they are released, which is impossible.

"The question here is, are they public records?" Renner said.

The prison's execution protocol originally proposed making the drug supplier confidential, he said, but that was removed from the final draft of the bill. And state Sen. John Kuehn introduced a separate bill (LB661) that would have made the drug supplier confidential, but it didn't pass.

"Legislatures are good places to make policy arguments. Courts are not," Renner said.

On the other side, Post said Frakes was concerned about just what Journal Star reporter JoAnne Young and World-Herald reporter Joe Duggan testified to: that if given information about the supplier they would investigate further. Which could lead to the name of a team member, he argued.

"This case is straightforward," he said. "We know that any time a shred of new information is released regarding the death penalty that death penalty opponents will investigate everything both upstream and downstream from that piece of information. And we can rest assured they will do so thoroughly."

And that's fine, Post said. But when they do, they'll discover an execution team member.

"And that is why we're withholding this information," he said, in asking the judge to dismiss the cases.

Young, Duggan and Amy Miller of ACLU of Nebraska all testified the prison had given out the same information prior to 2017 without raising that concern.

Attorney Spike Eicholt, who represented the ACLU, argued that what someone might do with the information is completely irrelevant.

"These are public records," he said.

Nelson took the matter under advisement.

Death-row inmates

Nebraska's 11 death row inmates