Nebraska casino push looks for signatures

Former State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha believes that Nebraska is losing “billions” to the casinos of neighboring states. (Image: northplattepost.com)

Keep the Money in Nebraska, the movement pushing for casino expansion in the state, has raised $250,000 to fund an effort to collect thousands of signatures from Nebraskans who support the cause.

The group needs to amass ten percent of the state’s registered voters, or around 113,900 people, to initiate a public referendum on casino expansion.

If successful, this would be the first time that state residents have been given the opportunity to vote on the issue.

In 2014 legislators voted for a referendum on casinos but this was overruled by the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The proposals would require an amendment of the state constitution, but the group may take heart from the recent grassroots movement that ultimately undid the legislature’s efforts to repeal the death penalty earlier this year.

Racetrack Decline

Keep the Money in Nebraska is comprised largely of the stakeholders in the state’s racing industry.

The group is spearheaded by the economic development unit of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, Ho-Chunk Inc, which owns Atokad Park racetrack in South Sioux City, and is backed by the Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association and Omaha Exposition & Racing.

Together they believe that the casinos of neighboring Iowa have for too long been the beneficiaries of Nebraska’s hard-earned dough.

The state’s race tracks have been in decline ever since Iowa legalized casinos in 1989.

The pro casino movement claims that up to $400 million a year of Nebraska money is flowing east to Iowa casinos.

Meanwhile, legalized casino gaming could bring between $60 million and $120 million into state coffers.

“I think we should do well,” said former State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, a spokesperson for the group. “In recent years, Nebraskans have seen literally billions of dollars leave our state for gambling options in surrounding states.”

Underfunded

“Our goal is to create economic development in Nebraska, create both direct and indirect jobs, and keep some of the money that’s been leaking to other states,” Lance Morgan of Ho-Chunk Inc. told Omaha.com. “We don’t think we’re going to have any trouble getting signatures.”

A recent survey commissioned by the group found that 58 percent of Nebraskans support expanded gambling.

The trick will be getting those names on paper.

Ho Chunk Inc has previously said that the movement would need $1 million to secure the required signatures, which means that currently the campaign is underfunded.

However, it may benefit from a new law that allows canvassers to be paid per signature rather than by the hour.

The deadline for the petitions is July 7.