Nebraska Could Vote on Casino Gambling as Tribe Tries to Capture $500M Wagered in Nearby States

Posted on: April 13, 2019, 08:28h. 

Last updated on: April 13, 2019, 08:28h.

Nebraska residents may soon be asked to sign a petition for a referendum allowing casino gaming at the state’s six licensed horse tracks under a proposal from the Winnebago Tribe and the Horsemen’s Benevolent Protection Association made up of thoroughbred owners and trainers.

Lance Morgan, CEO and president of Ho-Chunk, Inc., is advocating for casino gambling at Nebraska’s racetracks. (Image: Sioux City Journal)

The two groups — through an organization called Keep the Money in Nebraska — notified the Secretary of State’s office on Wednesday they want to collect signatures to get the issue on a statewide ballot in 2020.

The proposal would amend the state’s constitution and legalize gambling, as well as enact laws to regulate casino gaming.

If approved, organizers say the state could collect taxes on some of the approximately $500 million a year that residents currently wager in surrounding states.

Expanded gaming would generate an estimated $50 million in new tax revenue, the tribe said. It would be used for property tax relief, funding of public schools and problem gambling.

A 2016 attempt to get the issue on the ballot failed because it lacked the required number of names after only about 120,000 residents signed the petition. That is significantly lower than the approximately 450,000 signatures needed this time.

But the group remains optimistic it will get the needed names. It will use simpler language, fewer questions will be asked, and a new signature collection group is involved, the tribe said.

I think it’s a double positive for Nebraska,” Lance Morgan, CEO of Ho-Chunk, Inc., an economic development corporation affiliated with the Winnebago Tribe, told about the initiative. “We’ll get some gaming revenue going. We’ll also help revive a struggling industry, and in doing so, give rural Nebraska a much-needed economic boost.”

Morgan added that Nebraska’s political leaders say they are against gaming, “but we have a lottery and any Nebraskan who wants can cross the border and gamble.”

Competition from Other States

Now, casinos operate in Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota. Iowa is also currently considering allowing sports betting at casinos. The Winnebago Tribe additionally operates WinnaVegas Casino Resort in Sloan, Iowa.

“Gaming is here,” Morgan said. “It’s just a question of whether … we’re going to benefit from it, or other states are going to benefit from it.”

There are no commercial casinos currently in Nebraska.

Under the proposal, the state would enact a 20 percent tax on gross gaming revenue — which is the amount won by an operator, less federal taxes, other than income taxes, and promotional gaming credits.

Money Will Go to Tax Relief

If approved, 75 percent of the gaming tax revenue will be given to the state, broken down by 2.5 percent for the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund, 2.5 percent to the General Fund, and 70 percent to the Property Tax Relief Fund.

The remaining 25 percent will either go to the county where the track is located — if there is no town incorporated — or will be distributed equally between the town and county.

One group opposing the legalization of gambling is the Nebraska Family Alliance, which claims casinos are linked to increased domestic violence, child abandonment, prostitution and sex trafficking.

Nationally, Native American casinos continue to win a lot of cash. A report released last November by the American Gaming Association revealed that tribal venues account for 43.5 percent of the entire US gaming market.

Some 500 Native American casino resorts employed 676,428 workers in 2016, and they were paid in excess of $36 billion. Additionally, the tribal venues contributed $15.2 billion in local, state and federal taxes.

It will take a few weeks for the office of Nebraska Secretary of State Robert B. Evnen to review and approve the petition language.