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With push to expand gambling, video "skill" games draw questions

BankShot machines like this one in Grand Island have been ruled legal if the games require skill (NTV News)
BankShot machines like this one in Grand Island have been ruled legal if the games require skill (NTV News)
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Petitions circulate, with a goal of putting gambling on the Nebraska ballot. But before that happens, you'll find thousands of machines paying out cash prizes now in barrooms across the state.

With flashing lights and promises of a jackpot, BankShot machines are a popular barroom diversion.

But it looks enough like gambling to attract the attention of the Hall County Board of Supervisors. For one thing, the county's in the gaming business, running the local keno game and there's a concern BankShot games are cutting into profits.

And there’s also the concern they're too much like slot machines.

“My words, the legislature's punted on this matter,” Hall County Attorney Marty Klein told the board.

Instead of regulating the machines, Klein says the legislature has chosen to tax them.

“So if you want one of these in your establishment, you need to buy a tax stamp,” he told supervisors.

Effective January 1, 2020, the fee rises to $250 per machine, every year according to Tax Commissioner Tony Fulton, who said there are around 2,700 “mechanical amusement devices” that have paid the fee this year.

Marty Klein says the hardware is likely legal, but software is another matter, and it’s the reason he doesn’t prosecute them.

“I would have to prove they're games of chance, thus illegal and it's cost prohibitive, it's difficult for me to prove a game is legal or illegal to be played on those machines,” he explained.

Klein says investigators would have to send a machine to New Jersey to be analyzed.

Brandi Bosselman of VisionComm Vending says a 2011 court ruling paved the way for the machines, as long as there's skill involved.

“If you push a button at the appropriate time, you create your tic-tac-toe pattern so that you can win. You have to know what you're doing to win,” she told the county.

Bosselman and her brother Charlie also run Bosselman Enterprises, and she said they have machines in their stores as well as at Fonner Park.

The discussion turned to an effort to put gambling on the ballot, and also Fonner Park's attempts to add historic horse racing.

If those efforts succeed, County Chair Pam Lancaster said games like BankShot may lose their appeal.

And Brandi Bosselman said they all face new competition.

“People can play games on their phones and computers, so they don't need to go someplace to play these games now. That might be taking a big chunk of that,” she told the board, of a possible reason keno revenue may be down.

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NTV reached out to the director of Gambling with the Good Life. Pat Loontjer said BankShot Machines are no different than slots, and they oppose any efforts to expand gambling.

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