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Nebraska Legislature debates what legalized gambling will look like in state
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Nebraska Legislature debates what legalized gambling will look like in state

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Now that voters have legalized casino gambling in Nebraska, state lawmakers are trying to figure out how to regulate the industry and use some of the revenue it generates.

Members of the Legislature's General Affairs Committee dug into those details Monday in a public hearing focused on the soon-to-arrive casinos.

Some of the proposals considered would prohibit casino visitors from using credit cards to gamble, allow misdemeanor charges for people who cheat and require casinos to set up a way for gambling addicts to voluntarily bar themselves from the facilities.

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One provision of a bill would only allow sports betting inside casinos, an idea that drew opposition from a lawmaker whose district isn't currently eligible to get a casino.

“My community is feeling the effects (of casino gambling), but in no way will we draw the revenue,” said Sen. Justin Wayne, who represents a high-poverty section of north Omaha.

Roughly two-thirds of Nebraska voters approved constitutional amendments in November to allow casinos at the state's six licensed horse racing tracks and devote some of the money to a tax credit for property owners. The ballot campaign was bankrolled by Ho-Chunk Inc., a company owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, which is now working to open casinos at tracks in Lincoln, Omaha and South Sioux City.

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Lance Morgan, the president and CEO of Ho-Chunk, said the industry needs some regulations to clarify issues that couldn't be placed on the ballot measure, such as sports betting. He said the casinos will help Lincoln and Omaha by providing jobs for residents.

Gambling opponents, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, argued that the casinos will increase gambling addictions, leading to an increase in crime and personal bankruptcies.

Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln proposed a bill that would divert some of Lincoln casino's tax revenue to the group that organizes the Super Fair in her district. Cities and counties opposed the idea, saying it takes away their discretion to use the money for other needs.

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Geist pointed to the Nebraska State Fair, which receives some of its funding from the Nebraska Lottery, and said she was looking for ways to finance the Lancaster County fair without using property taxes.

“Once (the money) ends up in the general fund, it's very difficult to designate those dollars,” she said.

Sen. Tom Briese, chairman of the General Affairs Committee, said it's important for lawmakers to move quickly to set up clear rules for the casinos, even though he personally opposes gambling.

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“It's our responsibility to ensure that the will of the voters is respected,” said Briese of Albion.

Committee members took no immediate action on the bills.

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