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Nebraska lawmaker looks to gambling as property tax relief

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If tax relief is the goal, a Nebraska lawmaker thinks he's found a sure bet.

Senator Tyson Larson's proposal could put hundreds of millions into tax relief, but some call it a dangerous bill.

Larson, who represents the O’Neill area, has introduced an amendment to the Nebraska state constitution, to allow gambling.

“If property taxes are the number one issue, isn't that something we should consider?,” he asked during a recent committee hearing on tax relief.

The issue made a farmer who was testifying squirm in his seat.

“I think you're shifting gears on me Sen. Larson,” the farmer said, deferring to his friends in Farm Bureau to explain the group’s position.

Larson’s proposal would legalize poker, blackjack, slots, and other games of chance. He estimates it would raise $3-400 million a year.

“LR294CA has 98 percent of the money going to property tax relief and I would encourage anybody who cares about it to support that,” he said during the committee hearing.

Opponents don’t see it that way.

“It's a very dangerous bill, because it gives unlimited power to the legislature,” said Pat Loontjer.

The grandma who runs Gambling with the Good Life says it’s a bad way to raise revenue.

“Do the important things and no add another addiction to the problems we're facing in the state,” she said.

She points out Nebraskans have voted twice, defeating gambling.

In a phone interview, Larson says attitudes have shifted.

“Mood in Nebraska has significantly changed. I know in my district, the voters overwhelmingly support it, as I've polled it. Nearly 65–70 percent support gaming,” he said.

Gambling with the Good Life says every dollar gained costs three times that in social costs.

Loontjer said, “Any money that is spent in a casino or slot machine is not money spent on main street, it's not putting clothes on the backs of children or making the house payment.”

Larson argues Nebraska pays that price now. He says 90 percent of Nebraskans live within 100 miles of a casino.

He says the state has the social ills, although he thinks the numbers are overstated, without benefitting from the income. That’s why he challenges rural lawmakers who say they'd do anything to bring tax relief to farmers and ranchers.

“Property taxes aren't their number one issue. They'd rather dictate to the people what they can and cannot do. The morality of gambling trumps lowering property taxes which I think is a real shame,” he said in an interview.

There's a hearing on the proposal on the afternoon of February 12 at the capitol.

It would have to get 30 votes to appear on the November ballot.

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