Lawmakers debate gamble of helping keno

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March 14th, 2011

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Omaha, NE -A proposal to change how keno is played has reignited the debate over expanded gambling.

The bill sponsored by Senator Russ Karpicek of Wilber would allow players to chose their own keno numbers and pay for their tickets from an electronic device similar to an ATM. The idea is to increase the amount brought in by keno, and use part of the proceeds to increase purses for the state’s ailing horse racing industry. But the proposed changes have stirred up opponents of expanded gambling, who compare the proposed keno terminals to slot machines. Karpisek accused opponents of scare tactics and outright lies. And Omaha Sen. Bob Krist urged senators to consider all the good projects funded by local keno revenues.

“Call home and find out how many cruisers, ambulances, services, or how much was donated in your area as a result of keno,” he said. “And then realize is that all this is doing is allowing a self-service mechanism to go up and donate to those services.”

Sen. Russ Karpisek says that advancing a bill that may help keno revenue is financially beneficial to the state. (Photo credited Nerbaska Legislature)

Opponents said gambling doesn’t create wealth, but simply transfers it, usually from those who don’t have money to those who do. Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms also objected to helping the horse racing industry.

“I do not believe that we should be spending any tax dollars, transferring any of our money, to a business that’s gone,” he said. “A business that’s dead. It’s over in Nebraska. Yet we keep coming back to the same issues, and what does horse racing do for us? What is the thing that horse racing does for Nebraska? It doesn’t do anything. If anything, it hurts the families.”

As originally proposed, the bill would have tried to increase keno revenues by reducing the time between games from five minutes to one minute. Karpisek has now dropped that proposal, but he said if the bill makes it to the next round of debate, a three and a half minute interval will be proposed. The Legislature adjourned for the day without reaching a first-round vote on the bill.

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