Nebraska: Bill pushing back deadline for casino impact studies introduced

A bill, LB311, could delay new casino licenses in Nebraska. The General Affairs Committee heard testimony on Monday on legislation that would extend the deadline for studies evaluating horse racing and casino gaming in the Cornhusker State. The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Under current Nebraska law, the state Racing and Gaming Commission is required to conduct a market and socioeconomic impact study on statewide horse racing and casino gaming, in addition to studies for each county that already has a licensed racetrack, before any new casino licenses can be issued.

The stipulation was put in place last year with the goal to avoid market saturation, after a 2020 voter initiative legalized all games of chance at licensed horse racing tracks. However, a new bill introduced by Kearney Sen. John Lowe would change the deadline to complete the studies, pushing it back from Jan. 1, 2025 to Jan. 1, 2029, though the commission could choose to complete the requirements at an earlier date.

According to Lowe, the extension provided in the bill is necessary to ensure that the state has enough time to collect quality data. The earlier estimate for a Nebraska casino to be fully operational is 2024, the senator remarked, which would give the state less than a year’s worth of data to analyze when contemplating new licenses.

“That, quite simply, is not enough time to get a full and clear understanding,” Sen. Lowe stated, as reported by Unicameral Update. “If we are not properly informed, we cannot ensure our decisions are the right ones.”

Nebraska Horsemen and WarHorse Casino representative Lynne McNally spoke in support of LB311. Development of the Lincoln and Omaha racetracks has been delayed significantly due to the current financial climate and the cost of materials, she pointed out, and a number of requirements under the market analysis and impact studies cannot be completed until all of the materials have arrived and the racetracks are fully operational.

“We just need additional time,” McNally said, as per the cited news source. “The original six [racetrack] licensees would like an opportunity to get open so that you can do a market analysis that has value.”

According to proponent Lance Morgan, an economic developer, it takes casinos around two years to become “fully established.” He pointed out it is not uncommon for customer levels to fluctuate at the beginning of operations, especially in a new market such as the Nebraska one. “There is a seasonality to the whole thing,” he noted. “I think it’s going to take at least two years after a facility opens to know how it’s going to do.”

In contrast, John Hassett, president of Aksarben Equine, testified in opposition to LB311, arguing any delay in conducting the studies could result in a “significant” loss of potential revenue for the state. He pointed to studies conducted in New Mexico and Iowa, which show the proposed racetracks in each respective state are projected to generate an additional $100 million in wagers, or $20 million in gaming tax for cities.