An effort to have Nebraska voters decide the issue of historic horse races has fallen short.
The Unicameral initially voted 29-19-1 on LR 41, which would have placed the constitutional amendment on the November ballot. It would have asked voters to approve placing video machines at authorized horse racing tracks in the state. The machines would run past horse races on which bets could be placed. Enough of the races’ identity would be obscured so bettors wouldn’t know the outcome.
After seeing the initial outcome, Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, the sponsor of LR 41, changed his vote to “not voting” so he could move to reconsider the vote later. He needs 30 votes to place the issue on the ballot.
Lautenbaugh began debate on the resolution by stating historic horse racing could help the ailing live horse racing industry.
“What it’s designed to do is put on the ballot the question of authorizing historic horse racing machines at licensed tracks, and nowhere else,” Lautenbaugh stated. “And we’ve discussed this time and time again for years, literally.”
Lautenbaugh told colleagues the money historic horse racing could bring in would help finance a horse racing industry that has been struggling to remain profitable.
“Because that’s what this is all about; increasing purses, increasing racing days, providing increased revenue which would plow back into the industry,” according to Lautenbaugh. “And this is an industry worth keeping in Nebraska.”
Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo said he opposed historic horse racing, but would not stand in the way of taking the issue to the ballot.
“I will support this from the standpoint of taking it out to the citizens to again vote on gambling,” Johnson said. “If people ask me about it, I will say that I’m not supportive of gambling and that’s going to be my position on that. So, again, I’m probably not going to pay any money to campaign against it, but I will not speak for gambling out in the public.”
Most of the debate supported historic horse racing, though one senator cast doubt on whether the video machines would generate enough money to save the horse racing industry.
Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala argued that the legislature should let the voters decide the issue.
“Because, quite honestly, they are voting everyday with their dollars going out of this state,” Schilz said. “There’s no two ways about it. They’re driving across the border, they’re driving to Colorado, they’re driving to South Dakota, they’re going to Kansas.”
In 2012, state lawmakers fell one vote short of overriding Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto of the historic horse racing bill.