Signature Deadline Approaching to Authorize Nebraska Casino Vote in November

Posted on: June 25, 2020, 01:42h. 

Last updated on: June 25, 2020, 09:29h.

Supporters and opponents of legal gaming in Nebraska are facing off for another round in the state’s ongoing debate over gambling expansion. Proponents need to collect some 130,000 signatures from Nebraska residents by July 2 to get the issue before the state’s residents in November.

nebraska state capitol
Nebraska, whose state capitol in Lincoln is pictured above, may once again face a political struggle over gambling expansion. (Image: Encircle Photos/Richard F. Ebert)

The effort is well underway, organized by a locally based political group, called Keep the Money in Nebraska. Drew Niehaus, a spokesman, said the group is circulating three ballot initiatives all related to legalizing casino gaming in the state.

The first is a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would legalize games of chance at the state’s licensed horse racing tracks,” Niehaus told “The other two petitions deal with the statutory side of things by establishing a regulatory body and a tax structure.”

Mike Newlin, CEO of Omaha Exposition and Racing and general manager of Horsemen’s Park, told KPTM, a local TV station, that the casinos would be located at currently operating racetracks in Omaha, Lincoln, Columbus, Hastings, Grand Island, and South Sioux City.

Property Tax Relief Promises

Under their plan, the state would put a tax on gross gambling revenue (GGR). As envisioned, the state would impose a 20 percent tax on gaming revenues, “which would keep a conservatively estimated $65 million in tax money here in Nebraska annually,” Niehaus said.

Some 70 percent of the taxable revenue would be earmarked for property tax relief. Currently, Nebraska has the eighth-highest property taxes in the US, according to a recent report cited by the group.

The ballot organizers also want fewer state residents traveling out of state to gamble. With added gambling in Nebraska, the state could benefit.

Every state that borders Nebraska has legalized casino gaming,” Niehaus said. “Based on a recent economic impact study, we know Nebraska is exporting millions of dollars in tax revenue each year.”

Neihaus appears confident the group will get the required number of signatures — about 130,000 — for the ballot. He declined to specify last week how many signatures were collected so far. But he noted, “There is lag time between the collectors turning them in and our internal validation process.”

“Based on the number of signatures we’re seeing come in, all signs point toward the initiatives being on the ballot this fall,” Neihaus added.

He points out that statewide polls show “a solid majority of Nebraskans want the opportunity to gamble in their home state and to reap the benefits that come with a new source of tax revenue.”

Opponents Ready for Fight

But Pat Loontjer, executive director of the Nebraska-based anti-gambling group Don’t Gamble with the Good Life is also confident the push for gambling will be defeated.

“Attempts to change Nebraska’s constitution to allow casinos has been tried many times and always fails,” Loontjer told in an emailed statement. “The voters appreciate the ‘Good Life’ and see no reason to change it to the ‘Gambling Life.’

If they do succeed in getting the required number of signatures and if they are legal, then we will respond with a huge statewide grassroots effort to inform the voters and stop them at the polls in November,” Loontjer said. “It is a lot of work and we will be outspent by at least 25 times, but we’ve done it before, and we will do it again.”

Loontjer further claims that previously “Many, many of the signatures were collected by lying to the voters that they were signing for property tax relief, which is not true. Also, they were told that casinos would only be at the racetracks — another lie.”

Loontjer also warns if the state constitution is changed, “It would open the state for widespread Indian casinos.” Last year, reported the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska’s economic development unit Ho-Chunk Inc. was fully bankrolling Keep the Money in Nebraska.

Nebraska is home to five small tribal casinos that offer only Class I and II gaming — not slot machines and table games. But in adjacent Iowa, there are 19 commercial casinos and four Native American venues that offer slots, table games, and sports betting.