Nebraska Football Legend Tom Osborne Opposes Casinos, Urges Voters to Reject November Referendums

Posted on: October 5, 2020, 02:38h. 

Last updated on: October 5, 2020, 04:18h.

Tom Osborne is leading a campaign to defeat three ballot referendums that seek to legalize gambling. He previously coached the Nebraska Cornhuskers to three college football national championships and later served the state as a US representative in Congress.

Nebraska casino gambling Tom Osborne
Tom Osborne wants Nebraska residents to vote “no” on casino gambling during the November election. (Image: Cherokee Tribune)

On November 3, Nebraskans will be asked three questions about gambling.

Initiative 429 would change the Nebraska Constitution to allow games of chance to be offered at the state’s six licensed horse racetracks. Initiative 430 would establish a governing gaming commission, and Initiative 431 would enact a 20 percent tax on gross gaming revenue (GGR).

Osborne, one of the state’s most popular residents, as he coached the beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers football program for nearly 25 years from 1973 to 1997, has long opposed efforts to legalize gambling. He’s repeatedly voiced his disapproval of sports betting, and also rejects the three gambling initiatives.

We feel that these initiatives are certain to damage that quality of living,” Osborne opined.

“More gambling means more money leaving Nebraska — not less — plus addiction, bankruptcy, crime, and destroyed families,” the coach says in a commercial from the campaign Gambling with the Good Life.

Referendum Could Bring Jobs, Tax Relief

All three initiatives need to pass for Nebraska racetracks to transform into casinos. Ballot referendums require only a simple majority. However, the number of affirmative votes cast for the measure must be greater than 35 percent of the total votes cast in the election.

For example, if 100,000 voters complete a ballot, but only 60,000 decided to answer the initiative, the referendum needs 35,000 “yes” votes, even though 30,000 would be a simple majority.

If all three are passed and change the Nebraska Constitution, casino gambling would be legal at the closed Atokad Downs in South Sioux City, Lincoln Race Course in the capital, Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, Fonner Park in Grand Island, Hastings Exposition in Hastings, and Ag Park in Columbus.

Proponents of the initiatives say bringing commercial gambling to Nebraska would create 4,600 new jobs, stop as much as $500 million annually from flowing out of the state to nearby casinos in Iowa, and provide property tax relief.

Keep the Money in Nebraska, the pro-initiative group, says the six racetrack casinos would pay more than $65 million annually in gaming taxes. With 75 percent allocated for property tax relief, that means nearly $49 million in lower property taxes for homeowners.

Tribal Connections

Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development corporation of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, is funding the pro-casino initiatives. The Native American community purchased the closed Atokad Downs in 2012 with the goal of one day building a casino at the track.

Nebraska does not currently engage in Class III gaming compacts with any of its federally recognized tribes, which is required for their casinos to offer slot machines and table games.

Ho-Chunk would need to operate its potential Atokad Downs casino as a commercial enterprise, one that pays — in addition to gaming  levies — property and sales taxes.

The Winnebago Tribe and Omaha Indians already operate large Class III tribal casinos in neighboring Iowa. Nebraska legalizing commercial casinos could result in tribes demanding the state enter into Class III gaming compacts. Lynne McNally, legal counsel for the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said the tribes likely won’t be interested in entering the state gaming industry because they’d be competing with themselves.