Outgoing University of Nebraska President Urges State to Consider Casino Gaming for Extra Revenue

Posted on: August 3, 2019, 07:37h. 

Last updated on: August 4, 2019, 02:09h.

The push for casino gaming in Nebraska took an unexpected turn on Thursday when the outgoing president of the state’s public university system said expanded gaming could benefit higher education.

University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds, shown here speaking at the school’s Lincoln campus, said state officials need to consider allowing casino gaming in order to properly fund higher education. (Image: Hank M. Bounds/Twitter)

University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds told KETV NewsWatch 7 that the state needs to identify new sources of revenue. He noted that Nebraska’s neighbor to the east uses casino revenues that way.

I don’t think that you can leave anything off the table right now,” he said. “The state of Iowa, through their gambling revenue, spends a lot of money on refurbishing facilities at its universities.”

Bounds, who started in his position four years ago, announced earlier this year that he would step down this month to spend more time with his family. During his tenure, he had to manage a system with four campuses across the state while dealing with budget cuts in three consecutive years.

Coalition Seeks Expanded Gaming

Bounds’s comments come as a group tries to secure enough petition signatures to force a casino gaming referendum on the 2020 ballot.

The Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent Protection Association and Ho-Chunk, Inc., which serves as the economic development agency for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, have joined forces to create Keep the Money in Nebraska.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the petition drive will need to collect signatures on three separate petitions. One is to propose an amendment to the state constitution that would allow casino gaming and games of chance at the state’s racetracks. That require approximately 120,000 signatures, which represents 10 percent of the state’s registered voter rolls.

The other two would be to establish laws regarding gaming. One seeks to regulate casino gaming and establish a gaming commission, and the other calls for a law to set up the taxing authority. Keep the Money calls for 70 percent of the gaming tax proceeds to go to the state’s Property Tax Credit Fund.

Proponents claim expanded gaming in Nebraska could generate $50 million in new tax revenue.

According to Keep the Money, Nebraskans are a major contributor to casino gaming – and the tax bases they support – in surrounding states. The state’s residents spend about $500 million annually at casinos in Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Kansas, and Colorado.

Iowa is the major benefactor of Nebraska’s gamblers. According to an Associated Press report, about a quarter of all Iowa’s casino revenues came from its western neighbors. In 2013, that meant $327 million out of $1.4 billion. That also does not count what Nebraskans wager at Iowa’s tribal casinos, either.

HHR Approved, For Now

While Keep the Money tries to legalize casino gaming, the Nebraska Racing Commission (NRC) has given the state’s tracks the go-ahead to install historical horse racing (HHR) machines. The machines look like slot machines. However, each spin is based off the results of a previously run race, although information such as date and location of the race and the names of horses and jockeys are not shown. Gamblers can try to handicap the race or allow the machine to make the selections.

The 3-2 decision is the second time in less than a year that the NRC passed the measure, but the re-vote was taken after concerns arose that the commission violated open meeting laws.

While the racing industry supports the move, the World-Herald reports questions still remain about the legality, both from the state’s Attorney General and anti-gambling organizations.