Nebraska Gaming Vote Pushed Forward by State Supreme Court

Posted on: September 10, 2020, 09:40h. 

Last updated on: September 11, 2020, 12:58h.

Gambling expansion is a step closer in Nebraska after the state’s highest court paved the way for a three-initiative referendum in November, by a narrow 4-3 decision Thursday, Sept. 10.

Nebraska Gambling Bob Evnen
Secretary of State Bob Evnen had opposed the vote on whether to allow expanded gambling at Nebraska’s commercial racetracks. But the state Supreme Court disagreed. (Image: Scottsbluff Star-Herald)

A majority of the justices rejected the arguments from Secretary of State Bob Evnen, who opposed the vote on whether to allow expanded gambling at Nebraska’s commercial racetracks.

Gaming opponents claimed the state could see expanded tribal gaming if the proposal were approved. Evnen further argued that the language used in the initiatives was unclear and was not in the correct form.

Ultimately, the justices reversed the Secretary of State’s decision.

The Good Life?

“I am certainly not happy about it,” said Pat Loontjer, a board member of the anti-gambling expansion group Gambling With The Good Life, in an email sent to 

“We will do what we have done successfully for the past 25 years, and that is to use our grassroots efforts to inform the voters and defeat this thing,” Loontjer pledged. “We are the ‘Good Life State,’ and we don’t want to become the ‘Gambling State.’”

She points out the same issue has been proposed twice before, “and we beat it both times — once by 65 percent, so here we go. The Indians put up over $2M to get the signatures, so you can only imagine what they will put up for the campaign.”

Referendum Supporters Thrilled with Decision

But Keep the Money in Nebraska, which supports the gaming expansion vote, supported the justices’ ruling, according to organization spokesman Drew Niehaus.

“We’re thrilled that the 475,000 Nebraskans who signed the petitions get the chance to vote on the initiatives this fall,” Niehaus said. “On a bigger scale, the decision affirms the importance of the referendum process within Nebraska politics.”

The deadline to determine whether the vote will be placed on the ballot is Friday, Sept. 11, according to KETV, a local TV station. If approved by voters, expanded gambling could be implemented at racetracks in Columbus, Grand Island, Hastings, Lincoln, Omaha, and South Sioux City.

Keep the Money in Nebraska claims expanded gambling will lead to 4,600 new jobs and more than $45 million in property tax relief each year. Currently, more than $350 million is spent by Nebraska residents visiting casinos located in nearby states, such as Iowa.

That works out to between $65 million and $80 million annually lost in Nebraskan tax revenue, gaming expansion supporters said. Gambling expansion in Nebraska can curb those losses.

Keep the Money in Nebraska is a political committee and partnership between Ho-Chunk, Inc. and the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.