Nebraska Gambling Opponents are Gearing up for A New Casino Campaign

A group that helped thwart recurrent attempts for expansion of gambling in Nebraska are now gearing up to fight again in a ballot campaign that could possibly allow casinos at the licensed horse racing tracks.

The group called Gambling with the Good Life will be campaigning against the casino ballot measure, and they are also looking at possible legal challenges that are similar to the challenges faced last year, that knocked a historic horse racing proposal off the general election ballot in 2014. This group also has plans to follow as well as videotape petition circulator’s checking to see if there are any violation of state rules.

The petition group s called ‘Keep the Money in Nebraska’, have begun to gather signatures over the last month in order to place three gambling-related proposals into the November 2016 ballot.

So far the group has raised almost $255,000, mainly from Ho-Chunk Inc. who is the the economic development arm from the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska. Ho-Chunk has said they want to reopen the Atokad Downs, a race track in South Sioux City that was closed in 2012 to operate a casino on the site.

Former state Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, who is a spokesman for the Keep the Money in Nebraska, said that the coalition has plans to gather signatures at events and festivals where there are large crowds. In recent weeks petition circulators have been working at the Nebraska football games. The group ne4eds to submit signatures for each measure and they have until July 7, 2016, to do so.

Sen. Lautenbaugh said that casino gambling is estimated to could generate about $90 million to $100 million annually in tax revenue for local and state governments. He also said that Nebraska already has all the social ills that are caused by gambling, bankruptcies, gambling addictions and divorces, because of the close proximity to casinos around the border. Supporters have argued that the extra tax revenue received from gambling could help to pay for bridges, schools, roads, and property tax relief. He continued that the reality was Nebraska is already surrounded by states that have gambling.

Rev. Al Riskowski, who is the executive director of Nebraska Family Alliance, has said that the attorneys were reviewing the petitions in order to gage what the impact would be if the state if passed the proposals. The Reverent pointed out the language in the proposals that could allow the casinos to be sited as far away as 2,500 yards (approximately 1.4 miles) from an actual race track.

He has also said that his group would be working with Gambling with the Good Life to fight the plans and measures to raise money beginning in early 2016.

He said that they were expecting at some point, that there could be another large-scale attempt at bringing casinos into Nebraska, and that was not surprising, just disappointing.

One of the gambling proposals could amend the state’s constitution to give voters power to legalize casinos through voting in the ballot and that the second ballot proposal would effectually change the state laws to officially allow casinos, at the same time creating a Gaming and Racing Commission in Nebraska which will have seven members appointed by the governor.

The third proposal would ensure that casinos pay a one-time state licensing fee of $1 million, and also impose a 20% tax on each of the casino’s gross gambling revenues. Of the revenue gathered, 75% would be for the state and 25% for local government in the county or city where the casino is located.

Nebraska currently allows Lottery, keno, and horse racing and voters have thus far resisted video gambling machines. A ballot measure for the authorization of video Keno was defeated during 2006. During 2004, the voters rejected two proposals that would have allowed casino gambling - one was a petition that was backed by Las Vegas casino interests, and the other was approved by Legislature.

Just across the Missouri River, the state of Iowa offers the widest ranges of gambling in the nation and residents from Nebraska have generated almost $327 million in gross revenue for casinos in Iowa in 2013, his information is according was revealed by a consultant for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. It was found that a total gross revenue of $1.4 billion for the casinos, however, only 53% came from Iowa gamblers.

Last year the Supreme Court in Nebraska invalidated a ballot measure that would have allowed for electronic betting on horse races that were previously recorded to be shown on machines that resembled casino slots.

The ruling of the court stated that the measure would violate the constitution by squeezing two issues - to allow the machines and how the tax revenue was to be spent - on a single yes-or-no ballot question. It said that the machines would have allowed gamblers who wish to bet to be able to view the statistics about the horses prior to each race and also information that would have identified specific horses and/or races that had been removed.

Sen. Lautenbaugh, who introduced the amendment for horse racing into Legislature, said that he believed the new petitions could withstand a legal challenge, he said that the Attorneys had gone over them with a ‘fine toothed comb’.

The Keep the Money in Nebraska group and Ho-Chunk are listed as petition sponsors together with two horse racing groups, the Omaha Exposition and Racing Inc, and the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association.