Poker Legalization Bill Coming in Nebraska

Posted on January 21st, 2015 by Jon Pineda
Nebraska poker bill Tyson Larson

Tyson Larson wants Nebraska to allow poker in licensed bars, saying the game is one of skill rather than luck. (Image: nebraskalegislature.gov)

Nebraska poker players may soon have the opportunity to play their favorite game without leaving the state.

That’s the plan of State Senator Tyson Larson (R-O’Neill), who thinks that by pushing poker as a game of skill, he may be able to get around the state Constitution’s prohibition on games of chance.

This is hardly the first time that the issue of whether poker’s luck factor is small enough for it to be classified as a game of skill has come up in the United States.

In the case of Nebraska, the state Constitution only prohibits playing games of chance for money, but doesn’t have any prohibition against wagering on skill games.

Poker Would Be Hosted by Bars, Charity

“You can be a professional poker player; you cannot be a professional coin flipper,” said Larson. “You can lose a poker games on purpose; you can’t lose a coin flip on purpose. You can have the worst hand in poker by be the best player.”

Under Larson’s bill, most poker games would be hosted at bars, which would have to obtain a special endorsement on their liquor license to offer the games.

It would also be possible for charities and non-profits to obtain short-term licenses to run poker games.

The state would profit with a five percent rake on cash games and a similar fee on tournaments.

Half of the money raised through poker in the state would go towards property tax credits, while another 49 percent would be granted to local governments.

The last one percent would be used for a fund that would help limit problem gambling.

For Larson, a self-described libertarian, providing tax relief seems to be the most important pat of the revenue structure.

“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.”

Gambling Ban Leads Nebraskans to Other States

Currently, the state is losing potential gambling revenues to neighboring states such as Iowa.

While Nebraska has yet to legalize casinos, state residents produce about a quarter of the revenue at Iowa casinos.

Larson has been busy introducing bills in the current session.

The 28-year-old legislator has a second gambling-related bill on the table that would remove a required five-minute break between keno games offered in the state.

Other bills include one that would allow bars to stay open 24/7, and renewing an exemption to a statewide smoking ban for cigar bars.

Proposed Amendment Would End Constitutional Gambling Ban

Also on the gambling front, State Senator Paul Schumacher (R-Columbus) has proposed a constitutional amendment that would overturn Nebraska’s gambling ban in full.

Schumacher is the owner of Lotto Nebraska, which runs the keno games that are popular in small towns throughout the state.

Unfortunately for gambling fans, including poker players, it seems unlikely that these bills will pass.

While Larson believes that his bill will at least make it out of the General Affairs Committee, Schumacher expects his amendment to fail during the current session, and those opposed to gambling are already mobilizing to fight any bills that would expand the practice.

“Those are the same bills that they drag up every year,” said Pat Loontjer, the executive director of anti-gambling group Gambling With the Good Life. “We’re gonna fight it no matter what form of expanded gambling it is; we’ve got enough.”

The anti-gambling forces have some powerful allies on their side. Governor Pete Ricketts was formerly a board member of Gambling With the Good Life, while Lt. Governor Mike Foley has also spoken out against gambling in the past.

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