Nebraska prohibits most forms of gambling throughout the state, but at least one lawmaker wants to change that by allowing poker to be played there.
State Senator Tyson Larson (R-O’Neill) has introduced a bill that would allow for licensed hold’em and draw poker games to be spread at bars in Nebraska, saying that the game is one of skill rather than luck.
Right now, Nebraska law doesn’t allow for most forms of gambling: there are no casinos in the state, for instance.
However, these prohibitions only exist for games of chance, so if poker could be classified as a game of skill, it could work around existing law rather than requiring an amendment to the state’s Constitution.
“You can be a professional poker player; you cannot be a professional coin flipper,” said Larson, explaining why poker is different than many forms of gambling. “You can lose a poker game on purpose; you can’t lose a coin flip on purpose. You can have the worst hand in poker but be the best player.”
In Larson’s bill, bars would be able to buy a special endorsement on their liquor licenses that would make them eligible to host poker games.
Nonprofit groups would also have the opportunity to apply for licenses to offer poker on a short-term basis.
In order to earn revenue for the state, games would be raked at five percent (tournaments would also carry a similar fee).
From that money, half would go into Nebraska’s property tax credit fund.
“I don’t think there is any one silver bullet to property tax relief,” he said. “It’s a multi-step approach, and I honestly believe expanded gambling can be part of that multi-step approach.”
In addition, 49 percent of the fees would go to local governments.
The remaining one percent would be set aside for a fund that would battle problem gambling issues.
Larson, a 28-year-old who says he holds many libertarian viewpoints, is the new chairman of the General Affairs Committee.
While that committee, which oversees gambling and liquor issues among other topics, has yet to schedule a hearing on Larson’s bill, he says that he expects it to make it into the full Legislature for debate.
Currently, Nebraska poker players must leave the state to play in licensed poker games.
Most of them end up in Iowa, which is home to 18 licensed casinos.
According to one report, Nebraskans generated around $327 million in revenue for Iowa casinos in 2013, nearly one quarter of the total revenue for Iowa’s casinos.
There have been efforts to push for a statewide vote to legalize casino gambling in Nebraska, but they have failed in the Legislature.
The poker bill is one of several that have already been proposed by Larson in the current session.
A second gambling bill would remove the mandatory five-minute break between the keno games that are popular in parts of the state.
Larson has also proposed allowing bars to stay open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and reinstating an exemption to the state’s smoking ban for cigar bars.
However, the prospects for the poker and keno bills seem dim. Anti-gambling forces in the state have already vowed to fight any gambling expansion, and both the governor and lieutenant governor have previously fought against such efforts in the past.