- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska voters would decide whether to allow betting on previously run horse races under a measure that remained alive Tuesday in the Legislature amid claims that it was the best hope for saving the state’s horse racing industry.

Supporters overcame a filibuster that attempted to kill the measure, which would put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot allowing the state to license and regulate wagering through video terminals that show old horse races.

Although Nebraska now allows betting on live racing, it’s murky whether the state constitution allows betting on old races. If voters specifically allowed such betting, Nebraska could join five other states that offer such gambling.

Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha proposed the legislation, which would allow the installation of video betting terminals at tracks and would use the extra revenue to prop up live racing. Horse racing in Nebraska has been in decline for decades as other forms of gambling have become more popular.

Lautenbaugh said the horse racing industry represents thousands of jobs.

“Please stand with these good Nebraskans and help save these jobs at long last,” he said.

The State Racing Commission would regulate how many machines would be allowed at tracks if lawmakers and then voters approve the change, Lautenbaugh said.

Brian Becker, president of Fairplay Park in Hastings, said the goal is to increase the number of live racing days at the state’s horse tracks. Besides Hastings, live racing is held at Grand Island, Omaha and Columbus, with a track planned in Lincoln.

“The senators, I’ve got to applaud them for this because they are saving jobs,” Becker said. “They’re saving the industry.”

Betting on old racing is legal in Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon and Wyoming.

Under the system, information that would identify specific horses or races is removed, so bettors couldn’t check the winner before making a bet.

Opponents of the system note that it lets gamblers speed through races, which allows them to place many more bets than at a live race.

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, who led the filibuster, said the proposal is asking Nebraskans to vote on expanded gambling and a new form of wagering.

McCoy said the machines are “slot machines with a little screen that shows a horse race.”

Lautenbaugh disagreed, noting bettors get information to make an informed choice.

“If you can find a slot machine where you can find out the tendencies of the cherries, or the apples or the bananas to come up and make an informed choice before you pull that lever, you let me know,” he said.

Even if voters agree to change the state constitution, McCoy said such gambling could be challenged in court. He said the constitution now allows only pari-mutuel wagering, and notes that Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has issued an opinion stating that such old-race gambling likely wouldn’t qualify.

Lawmakers adopted an amendment that would devote state proceeds from the expanded gambling to education and property tax relief.

Lawmakers have to vote once more on the measure before it would go to voters.

In 2012, Gov. Dave Heineman vetoed a bill by Lautenbaugh that would have allowed the State Racing Commission to license and regulate historic horse racing. As a proposed constitutional amendment, this measure wouldn’t go to Heineman.

McCoy said he knows a number of senators voted for a motion to cease debate who don’t intend to vote for the measure itself. Supporters will need 30 votes to pass the measure.

“I would imagine the votes would look substantially different when we get it back on final reading,” he said.

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The amendment is LR41CA.