Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission’s $30K Gun Purchase Questioned by Lawmakers

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The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission (NRGC) spent $30,351 on semi-automatic rifles late last year. It has now faced scrutiny from state lawmakers over the decision, with NRGC reps grilled in a Friday meeting at the Nebraska State Capitol.

According to reports from The Lincoln Journal Star, the commission acquired ten SIG Sauer MPX rifles (example pictured), equipped with laser sights and other accessories, intended for use by its investigators.

The rifles were purchased in August 2023 by Commission Executive Director Tom Sage for potential use in active shooter situations at Nebraska casinos or horse racing venues.

This decision prompted a debate among lawmakers and members of the commission itself over the necessity and appropriateness of such a purchase for a regulatory body.

“If we had an active shooter event, we have a duty to intervene and to eliminate that threat,” said NRGC investigator Steve Eppens, defending the $30,351 purchase.

“We’re in this profession to protect the public. That’s what we do.”

The agency has only been given an extended budget for one full year after casino gambling and retail sports betting in Nebraska were legalized in 2022.  

Lawmakers eventually agreed the purchase was justified, but demanded more transparency and clarity on future purchases of such nature.

Operational Justifications

Despite the operational justifications, the move still faced scrutiny over its timing and prioritization.

The NRGC, which has just two cars, chose to invest in firearms before securing vehicles for its investigators. To add to the mess, when lawmakers got word of the purchase, Sage attempted to cancel the order. But as they were custom-made guns with fitted accessories, a cancellation was not possible.

Chairman of the NRGC board Dennis Lee backed the decision, but admitted it probably didn’t look great to lawmakers or the public.

“Were the guns needed? That’s a subjective question,” Lee said. “The optics is probably not the best in terms of how it was handled.”

The chairman also assured lawmakers that the guns will sit safely stored in the commission’s offices in Lincoln for now, and they will not be distributed to investigators until the board puts in place the necessary protocols and policies.

The commission, which expanded significantly following the onset of legal casinos in the state in 2022, now has ten investigators, up from just one when it solely regulated Nebraska horse racing.

These investigators are involved in various duties, including background checks and investigating incidents at gambling facilities. The crimes encountered since the opening of the state’s first casino include money laundering, drug dealing, human trafficking, and a homicide at Fonner Park.

Certified Law Enforcement

Eppens told politicians that all ten investigators are certified law enforcement. Considered Deputy Sheriffs under Nebraska law, NRGC investigators have the authority to carry firearms and make arrests. The Sig Sauer MPX rifles purchased are the same model used by the state’s SWAT team tactical units.

The Commission’s director of Enforcement Steve Anderson also told lawmakers that there were nine shooting-related incidents at Nebraska race tracks and casinos since 2018.

Meanwhile, Tom Sage did not appear at the Capitol to justify his own decision, as he is currently on medical leave.

In a separate issue, the Commission Board recently agreed to approve Sage’s plan for early retirement on medical grounds. He is set to leave the office in March, with no word yet on who his replacement will be.

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