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Proposed law would doom Bellevue casino project; it would ban casinos within 50 miles of each other

Posted at 6:23 PM, Jan 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-04 19:23:01-05

BELLEVUE, Neb. (KMTV) — After voter approval in 2020, Nebraska has been slowly approving regulations to create an infrastructure for gambling to actually take place at statewide horse tracks.

Horsemen's Park in Omaha is already planning a major renovation and if a bill in the legislature gets approved when lawmakers return, it could be the only casino in the metro area.

“That won’t be a keep the money in Nebraska, that will be a leave the money in Iowa bill,” said John Hassett.

The Legislature hasn’t even returned to Lincoln and John Hassett is already ready to fight against a bill that, in part, regulates where you can and cannot put a casino in Nebraska.

3 News Now was told about the bill Monday from State Senator Tom Briese, that would ban any horse track casino being placed within 50 miles of an existing one.

“As of right now there could be a casino on every I-80 interchange, or in every county seat. That’s a slight exaggeration but there could be many, many casinos across the state,” said Briese.

Omaha already has one horse track, Horsemen’s Park, which is undertaking a massive $220 million renovation that would include a full casino and sportsbook.

In July, Hassett proposed to the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission a 5,000 seat, Bellevue horse track-casino, called Belle Vue Downs.

READ MORE: Proposed Bellevue horse track, 'Belle Vue Downs' gets pushback

But if the bill passes, the Bellevue project is essentially doomed.

“That’s just to limit their competition. That bill would be good for those casino owners, but I don’t think it’s good for Nebraska,” said Hassett.

He is joined in opposition by Bellevue Mayor Rusty Hike.

“I don’t like the bill at all and I don’t think anybody in the state should like it,” said Hike.

Hike says the city and Sarpy County could see around $5 million annually from gaming revenue and doesn’t think the state’s third-largest city and county should be left out of the process.

“We would never want to limit Omaha from something just because we had the first one, and it goes vice-versa, and it goes for any county in Nebraska really,” said Hike.

Briese told me he’s a free market capitalist and his bill is a reasonable accommodation to competing interests.

“Folks are asking for distances all over the board or no minimum, so I don’t think 50 miles is an unreasonable place to land on that. I believe it is consistent with Nebraska values, consistent in what I believe the voters would support,” said Briese.

Hassett says the racing and gaming commission can already approve and deny projects, and it should be left up to them to make the decision, and not set an arbitrary 50-mile radius.

“50 miles out west is not a big thing, it is here,” said Hassett.

The legislature comes back Wednesday and would first need to be introduced, passed through a committee and passed through the legislature three times before Governor Ricketts could approve it.

It’s unclear when Nebraskans can start making legal bets in the state. Executive Director of the Racing and Gaming Commission Tom Sage tells 3 News Now that they are still putting in more regulations, and technical work.

He says it’s not an overnight process and wants to ensure the proper steps are taken.

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