- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska voters will decide if the state should allow betting on previously recorded horse races, after the Legislature decided to put the issue on the ballot.

Lawmakers voted 30-17 on Monday in a second attempt to approve the proposed constitutional amendment. Last week, lawmakers fell short of approving the measure.

The measure by Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, allows voters in November to decide if Nebraska should license and regulate wagering on the races.

If approved by voters, the amendment would only allow the installation of video betting terminals at race tracks. Under the system, information that would identify specific horses or races is removed, so bettors couldn’t check the winner before making a bet.

Supporters argue that allowing the bets would help the struggling horse racing industry and increase live racing in the state. Opponents said the measure amounts to expanded gambling. Horse racing in Nebraska has been in decline for decades as other forms of gambling have become more popular.

“This is wagering on horse races at tracks where we already allow wagering on horse races at tracks,” Lautenbaugh said.

Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha, changed his vote and supported the bill Monday, but said he would be voting for it in November.

“I believe in the vote of the people on the issue and I’m one of those people that will not be voting for it when I go into a voting booth,” Kolowski said.

Pat Loontjer, executive director of Gambling with the Good Life, said she was saddened by the vote.

She doesn’t know what to expect for how people will vote on the issue in November, but she expects her group, which opposes any expansion of gambling, to be outspent during the campaign period.

If adopted, the tax revenues would go to education and property tax relief. The state is going to be left with the heartache that comes with gambling, she said.

Sen. Beau McCoy, who voted against the measure, said the amendment is very vague, he said.

“The people of Nebraska in my opinion deserve to vote on something that is very clear,” he said.

Brian Becker, president of Fairplay Park in Hastings, said he applauds the senators for the vote they took.

“They are truly saving an industry,” he said.

Horse racing has been in decline for decades in Nebraska as other forms of gambling have become more popular.

In 2006, Nebraska voters rejected a plan to allow video keno in the state. And in 2004, they voted down two proposals to allow casino gambling - one touted by Las Vegas casino interests, the other by the Legislature.

Gov. Dave Heineman vetoed a bill by Lautenbaugh in 2012 that would have allowed the State Racing Commission to license and regulate historic horse racing. A proposed constitutional amendment does not need the governor’s approval.

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The amendment is LR41CA.

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