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'It's not what the voters want': Bill would ban Nebraska casinos from using TIF

Posted at 6:29 PM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 19:29:37-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — One casino being built in Omaha has already benefited from tax increment financing, known as TIF, but a bill in the legislature would make sure no Nebraska casino can use TIF again.

State Sen. Mike Flood says voters overwhelmingly approved horse track casinos in November 2020, and in exchange they wanted much of that profit to go to property tax relief. That language was listed on the ballot.

Flood believes at the base level, the state should make horse track casinos pay the full amount of property taxes.

“Letting them off from paying their property taxes to instead reinvest in their property doesn’t seem in sync with what the voters wanted,” said Flood.

In summary, TIF works this way: the developer pays the current rate of property taxes for 15 years, and then the extra property value, whatever the sum may be, is reinvested in the project for public infrastructures, such as street and sewer additions.

The City of Omaha granted TIF to Horsemen’s Park, soon to be re-branded as WarHorse Casino, last summer, a redevelopment of over $300 million, using over $17 million in TIF money.

Flood says the Omaha project can stay if the bill passes.

“It’s not my intent to go back and stop that,” said Flood.

Still, Flood, along with other state senators, believe that’s not what the voters or legislature intended.

Anti-gambling advocate Pat Loontjer questions any city giving TIF for a casino, as one clause in the law states the project won’t happen “but for" tax increment financing.

“Any casino that is coming in and asking for TIF money is not poor, is not low on funding, is not something that needs subsidizing by the taxpayer,” said Loontjer.

Flood later pointed to the TIF application for WarHorse Casino, which shows revenues in excess of $45 million.

Still, Sen. Carol Blood showed skepticism. The former Bellevue city council member said cities should have the right to make their own decisions.

Bellevue is a proposed site for a racetrack casino.

Kristy Abraham of the Nebraska League of Municipalities agreed with Blood, saying cities like Bellevue should decide on their own.

“We do feel this bill does limit the local control of communities who may decide that they want to use TIF for a casino or a racetrack,” said Abraham.

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