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Controversial guns to be locked away at gaming commission until training, protocols adopted

This is a civilian Sig Sauer MPX model is similar to the law-enforcement grade guns recently purchased by the Racing and Gaming Commission. It is a short-barrel, semi-automatic rifle that shoots handgun ammunition. (Courtesy of Sig Sauer)

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LINCOLN — Semi-automatic guns purchased recently by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission will be locked away until proper training and procedures for their use can be adopted, a representative of that agency said Wednesday.

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Shane Greckel, the vice chairman of the commission, said the gambling agency had explored whether to return the 10 Sig Sauer MPX rifles, purchased for the commission’s investigators.

But, he said, the agency would have had to pay a 30% “restocking” fee, which made it too expensive, and there was no interest in declaring them “surplus” property of the state so they could be sold.

“It’s best that we hold onto them right now,” Greckel said.

For active shooter incidents

The guns cost $30,350 and were portrayed as necessary to respond to  any “active shooter” incidents that might occur at the state’s gambling casinos. Such incidents typically involve high-powered, semi-automatic rifles.

But the purchase — first reported by the Examiner — raised concerns with some commissioners who weren’t informed about it until November.

Greckel said the commission has decided to lock up the guns until proper training and procedures for their use can be adopted.

The commission has expanded rapidly with the opening of legal casinos in the state 16 months ago. It employs 10 plain-clothes investigators to patrol casinos and racetracks. They are certified state law enforcement officers, officials have said.

While some commissioners questioned whether the agency needed the additional firepower, investigators told the Examiner that the short-barreled rifles purchased were the standard weapons used by SWAT teams in active shooter cases and that it was necessary to “meet force with force.”

Executive director to retire

The executive director who approved the gun purchase, Tom Sage, announced last week that he will retire in March.

Tom Sage, the executive director of the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission which has grown to 25 staffers since the advent of casino gambling in the state in 2022. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Sage, who went on personal leave recently for health reasons, defended the purchase as a necessary step to protect the public.

Sage was also facing questions about a $48,000 contract for a market study on gaming that he had signed — a study that commissioners deemed incomplete last week. A review is now underway to determine whether it should be redone or if an addendum is needed.

On Monday, a state legislative committee heard no opposition to a bill that would give the governor more power over the commission.

Under Legislative Bill 839, the governor would have final say over the appointment of an executive director by the commissioners and could remove commissioners for malfeasance, neglect or other causes. Currently, the Racing and Gaming Commission has sole authority over choosing its executive. The governor appoints the seven-member board.

Auditor questions lack of CPA review

State Auditor Mike Foley charged this week that the Racing and Gaming Commission was not following state law or its own policies, which require auditing of the gambling revenue it receives by an independent accounting firm.

The commission received $9.6 million in tax revenues in the fiscal year that ended in July, Foley noted, and that revenue is expected to double in the current fiscal year with the opening of more casinos.

“When the citizens voted for casino gambling, a lot of promises were made about the influx of tax dollars.” the auditor said. “Now we need to be assured that the monies generated by casino gambling are verified … and thus far that has not happened.”

Last month, in an official response to a letter sent by the State Auditor’s Office, the commission said it agreed with the concerns and was “currently working on strengthening our policies and procedures.”

Greckel said Wednesday that audits have been “on the forefront of our agenda” and will be done.