Casino gambling in Nebraska took a giant step forward earlier this month when the state Racing and Gaming commission unanimously voted to approve rules for casinos at the state’s horse racetracks.
It took the commission and its staff more than a year to create the 67 pages of rules and regulations that are the historic first step toward the implementation designed to resurrect horse racing in the state and provide property tax relief from the receipts generated by keeping Nebraska gambling money in the state.
Those regulations, which incorporate the language of the constitutional amendments approved by the voters, are based on best gaming industry practices aimed at creating well-regulated, ethical gambling and tight security.
The quality of the proposed rules is perhaps best verified by the testimony of gambling opponents at the commission’s Dec. 17 hearing. All of those who fought against gambling and the initiative praised the rules for their thoroughness and likely effectiveness.
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The rules are now before Attorney General Doug Peterson and Gov. Pete Ricketts, who must sign off on them before any further steps to approve and build the casinos can go forward.
Given their support from the racing industry and gambling opponents and the incorporation of voter-approved regulations and use of best industry practices in the rules, those reviews should be pro forma and rapid, not dragged out in an effort to delay their implementation.
A week after their approval and submission to the Secretary of State, the rules will become effective and lead to the most critical step in the process – the city by city approval of casino licenses.
All six of the state’s existing tracks, in Lincoln, Omaha, South Sioux City, Columbus, Grand Island and Hastings have announced plans to seek casinos. Proposals for six new tracks, required in order to have a casino, have been announced in Bellevue, Gering, Kimball, Norfolk, North Platte and York.
A dozen casinos would likely oversaturate the market in the state, which will continue to lose some gamblers to casinos in Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas. That puts the commission in the difficult position of choosing which cities will get the casinos and their related economic benefits and which will be shut out.
Wisely, the commission has indicated that it will first consider the applications of the six existing tracks, a move that will implement the spirit behind the initiative while providing time for the Legislature to regulate the number of casinos and the operation of the tracks.
Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, the chair of the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee, plans to introduce legislation that would require casinos to be 50 miles apart and the tracks to have a minimum number of annual live race days.
That proposal is sensible and would immediately limit development in eastern Nebraska while ensuring that the new facilities would be functioning racetracks rather than a strip of ground that holds races one day a year so a casino can operate.
Its passage in the short legislative session would continue momentum to getting casinos in the state that has now begun with this month’s historic commission approval of the rules.