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Fireworks

Fireworks explode over the Nebraska State Capitol to conclude the Nebraska 150 Celebration on Sept. 22, 2017.

Games of skill, which have popped up at a few businesses in and around Lincoln, have been hailed by an influential former state senator as the means to fund much-needed property tax relief.

Former State Sen. Loran Schmit is right, of course. These amusement devices would generate revenue that could be used to change the system in a way that offsets the property tax hikes that have crippled many small farms after commodity prices and revenues plunged.

But Nebraska’s unwillingness to embrace gambling the way neighboring states have leaves it to pursue only incremental measures. Accordingly, the relief for which so many Nebraskans pine will be incremental, at best, until the state can find a way to pay for it.

After all, the Cornhusker State has failed in multiple attempts to establish casino gambling, which remains expressly prohibited in the state’s constitution. And, despite a 2018 Supreme Court ruling clearing the way for legal sports betting, Nebraska has made zero progress on that front since.

But Nebraskans can bet on horse racing, play keno or buy lottery tickets. Those would certainly qualify as wagering in hopes of winning more – just in a different form than at a casino. Functionally, there’s no difference

Nebraskans should be puzzled why some forms of gambling are legal and others are not. Even the forms that aren’t permitted still occur, whether in an uncontrolled environment in this state or legally in another.

The incongruence of Nebraska’s gambling statutes would be laughable if it weren’t so costly.

Several editorials have cited the 2014 survey performed for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, our neighboring state’s regulatory body for casinos. But it bears repeating: Nebraska was responsible for nearly a quarter of Iowa’s casino revenue in 2013.

Applying that same percentage to the $321 million in local and state taxes Iowa’s 23 licensed casinos paid last year, and Nebraskans contributed nearly $75 million of their money to tax relief in a different state. That number will surely grow, as Iowa has since legalized sports betting.

If that money stays on this side of the Missouri River, congratulations – Nebraska may well have solved its property tax problem, should lawmakers direct new tax revenues toward it.

Tax increases are unpopular for obvious reasons. But, again, expanded gambling allows the state to sidestep that political thicket – not to mention regulate activity that will otherwise happen illicitly, boosting both user protections and state coffers.

As Schmit insightfully noted: “Any tax placed on gambling is a completely voluntary tax.”

His proposal to expand the use of these games of skill and direct resulting revenue to property tax relief isn’t a bad one. Until the state attempts to open more avenues for the money Nebraskans send to Iowa, though, the present trend of incremental change will have little lasting impact.

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