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I hope everyone has weathered the storms this past week and is looking forward to the spring weather we should, hopefully, be blessed with in the near future. This week, my priority bill, LB371, was heard and advanced on the floor. It wasn’t an uncontested discussion, but did conclude with a vote of 38 senators in support, five in opposition, and five abstentions.
LB371 is legislation that would exempt games of chance pursuant to the Nebraska Racetrack Gaming Act from the list of activities prohibited within the proximity of an ongoing fair. For Grand Island, changing this law is a critical need. Fonner Park is defined in state law as the place where the State Fair must occur. Should Fonner Park choose to construct a casino, which is almost certainly a given, the forced closure that the pre-existing law mandates would be to Grand Island’s economic detriment. We expect that any casino facility would create jobs and drive tourism, and the sudden forced closure of that facility could have an impact on tourism levels and on those who work at the facility. We need to ensure that Grand Island is able to reap the full economic benefit of the Racetrack Gaming Act on a consistent basis.
I do recognize and respect the opposition to our bill. Those who are averse to gambling on moral or religious grounds are entitled to their voice and their vote. One of the most vocal concerns was what the healthy separation of gaming and a fair would look like, and if having games-of-chance near a fair would result in parents leaving their children at the midway in order to gamble. Other senators quickly responded that said action is already a possibility at the fair, with bingo or the beer garden, and that we could ponder the “what-ifs” of this situation for hours. In my conversations with Fonner Park, it has been made abundantly clear that there will exist a strong separation between the gaming operations and the State Fair. The fair will remain the fair, and the casino will be the casino.
We did see senators who traditionally oppose efforts related to gambling stand in support of LB371, and I appreciate their being vocal during the debate. LB371 was lauded as being a necessity given the overwhelming support by the voters of Racetrack Gaming Act. I agree, not only for Grand Island, but for Columbus and Hastings and other communities that may fit the criteria in the future.
LB371 will have two more rounds of consideration by the Legislature. I will continue working forward on this bill and look forward to seeing its eventual final passage.
Changing focus, I’d like to congratulate Mr. Brody Arrants of Grand Island Senior High School on his state wrestling championship, and the Grand Island Central Catholic boys basketball team on their state championship. I’m incredibly proud of the athletic accomplishments of our young athletes and also their academic accomplishments.
As always, please contact me with your support, opposition or questions on any legislative bill or issue. My legislative aide, Gerald Fraas, and administrative assistant, Amanda Johnson, are also available to assist you with matters related to the state of Nebraska and Legislature. You can follow along with the Nebraska Legislature at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.
Published in the Grand Island Independent 3/20/2021