Ho-Chunk to Sue State of Nebraska After Casino Measure Pulled from Ballot

Posted on: August 26, 2020, 04:08h. 

Last updated on: August 27, 2020, 02:10h.

Ho-Chunk Inc. and its allies have vowed to sue the state of Nebraska after a campaign to legalize casino gaming was struck from the ballot Tuesday by Secretary of State Bob Evnen.

Bob Evnen
Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen believes authorizing casinos at racetracks could lead to class III gaming on tribal reservations. (Image: Scottsbluff Star-Herald)

Ho-Chunk Inc. is the economic arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, which has for years been pushing for casinos in one of America’s most gambling-free states. The tribe is the driving force behind “Keep the Money in Nebraska (KMN),” the campaign that pushed the ballot initiative, which is also backed by the horse racing industry.

KMN’s petitions have been signed by 475,000 registered voters, far and away enough to send the issue to a vote on November 2. They would ask state residents whether the state constitution should be changed to authorize casino gaming at racetracks.

Ulterior Motive?

But Evnen blocked the initiative because he said the petitions used unclear and misleading language. He says that permitting full-fledged class III casino gaming at racetracks would open the door to the same class of gaming at tribal casinos, which is not something that voters were being asked to authorize.

The federal Indian Regulatory Act allows tribes to offer class III gaming on sovereign land provided it is already conducted elsewhere in the state “for any purpose by any person, organization, or entity” — although, in such cases, tribes must first negotiate a compact with the state.

Lynne McNally, executive vice president of the NHBPA, told The Sioux City Journal that the decision was “incredibly unfair and unjustified,” noting that Evnen’s office reviewed the language of the ballot proposal before the campaign began and had made no objection. The language has been publicly available for more than a year, she added.

KMN claims the move is political and the timing is designed to curtail its chances of mounting a successful legal fightback. In a filing to the state Supreme Court Wednesday, the group says Evnen’s decision gives it just 17 days to seek recourse in the courts before the ballot deadline on September 11.

It asks the highest court in the state to let it skip a case in the district court and go straight to the top.

History Repeating

KMN spearheaded a similar campaign in 2016, but again, the measure was pulled from the ballot because 42,000 signatures were deemed to be invalid, leaving the campaign short of the target.

The group sued the company it hired to gather signatures, a lawsuit that is still pending.

This time, there’s no room for doubt. Ho-Chunk Inc CEO Lance Morgan told The Sioux City Journal that the 475,000 autographs KMN collected beats the 406,000 who voted for Evnen at his 2018 election.

“I looked it up,” he explained.