Nebraska lawmaker proposes slots at racetracks

Jan 16, 2009 2:42 AM
Staff & Wire Reports |

A state lawmaker wants to help save Nebraska’s horse tracks by letting visitors pull on slot machines, a plan that a leading gambling opponent said is a bailout that includes a “bribe” aimed at other lawmakers.

On Wednesday, Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber proposed an amendment (LR6CA) to the state constitution that would allow up to 3,500 electronic and video gaming machines at horse tracks.

The plan was brought to Karpisek by horse enthusiasts in the state worried about the future of horse tracks because fans aren’t galloping to them like they used to.

“It’s an industry in the state -- especially around Grand Island,” Karpisek said about why horse tracks deserve help. “In this economy, we need to help everybody stay in business.”

“This is a limited form of gambling -- slot machines at race tracks that already have gambling,” he added.

Pat Loontjer of Gambling with the Good Life, an antigambling group, called the plan “a bailout for an industry that cannot sustain itself, and Americans are sick of bailouts.”

Forty percent of the revenue from the machines would go toward highway construction under Karpisek’s proposal, which would go before voters in 2010 if it gains support among lawmakers.

Based on estimates of tracks in the state having 3,025 machines, 40 percent would amount to $88.4 million annually for state roads. Loontjer called that a bribe to lawmakers who are struggling to find the money to keep up with road construction.

“The money’s got to go somewhere,” Karpisek said in response to the allegation. “We can argue all day where the money goes, but the argument is we should put it there because we need money for roads.”

Thirty-nine percent of the money, or about $86 million, would go to owners of the machines.

Four percent would go to cities or counties where the tracks are located, 2 percent would go to help administer race track gaming, and 2 percent would go to groups that develop and improve horse activities. Another 2 percent would be used to improve thoroughbred breeding. One percent would go toward the treatment of compulsive gamblers.

Nebraska was the first state in the nation to legalize pari-mutuel wagering, in 1935, but horse racing has struggled in recent years because of an aging fan base and competition for gambling and entertainment dollars.