Nebraska’s racing and gaming regulator has made a controversial purchase of 10 semi-automatic short-barreled rifles at a cost of $30,351. The rifles are intended for use by the agency’s 10 investigators in the event of a shooting attack at a casino or racetrack.

According to Steve Eppens, a Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission investigator, the purchase was necessary as the agency has a duty to intervene and eliminate any potential threats in the event of an active shooter situation. However, the purchase has raised questions from state lawmakers and members of the commission’s supervisory board.

The agency reportedly attempted to cancel the order for the rifles two months before it was placed, but it was already too late to do so. This led to concerns about the regulator’s spending priorities, as the purchase of the rifles preceded the provision of vehicles for all investigators to use during their work.

Dennis Lee, a member of the commission’s board, acknowledged that the decision to purchase the rifles is a subjective matter, but admitted that the optics of how it was handled may not be the best. Nonetheless, he assured the public that the rifles would not be handed over to the investigators until clear policies, protocols, and procedures for their storage, training, and use are established.

The rifles, which are SIG Sauer MPX short-barrel rifles, have arrived at the commission’s offices in Lincoln and are currently safely locked away. The purchase was approved by Executive Director Tom Sage, who is set to retire in March and is currently on medical leave.

All 10 of the commission’s investigators are certified deputy state sheriffs, authorized to make arrests and armed with handguns. They are also certified to use firearms.

The commission has hired additional staff, including investigators, in preparation for the opening of the casino gambling market in Nebraska in 2022. Their duties include conducting background checks, investigating crimes, and handling customer complaints or rule violations within casino and racing venues.

The need for the rifles was highlighted by a number of crimes, including human trafficking, money laundering, drug dealing, and a homicide incident at Fonner Park in Grand Island in 2023. Steve Eppens and Steve Anderson, the agency’s director of enforcement, emphasized that the rifles were acquired to protect both patrons and officers during catastrophic events such as active shooter incidents.

The rifles were purchased from a gun dealer located in Henderson.

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