An effort to legalize casinos at Nebraska race tracks is underway, spearheaded by a group calling itself “Keep the Money in Nebraska.”
The organization, as its name suggests, argues that gambling money should stay in Nebraska rather than flowing east to Iowa, and that casino expansion is necessary to save the state’s stricken horseracing industry.
The group has submitted a petition to state lawmakers for approval and wants to begin gathering signatures as soon as possible.
A sufficient quota of signatures would force a public referendum, allowing Nebraskans to vote on the issue of casino gaming for the first time in its history.
Nebraska currently has a handful of small, underwhelming Indian casinos, such as the Lucky 77 Casino in Walthill (pictured).
80,000 Signatures Needed
A survey recently commissioned by Keep the Money in Nebraska found that 58 percent of Nebraskans support expanded gambling.
To take the issue to ballot, the group would need signatures from at least 7 percent of the state’s registered voters, or around 80,000 people.
The group is led by Ho-Chunk Inc, the economic development unit of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. Ho-Chunk owns the Atokad Park racetrack in South Sioux City, which closed down in 2012 after 60 years of racing.
“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 (not an online poker site) this week. “We don’t think we’re going to have any trouble getting signatures,” he added.
The Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association and Omaha Exposition & Racing are also behind the push.
$400 Million a Year Goes to Iowa
The state’s race tracks have seen a steady slide in revenues since Iowa legalized casino gambling in 1989.
The pro gambling lobby claims that up to $400 million a year in Nebraska money is goes to Iowa casinos, and legalizing gaming at Nebraska racetracks could bring between $60 million and $120 million into state coffers.
In 2014 lawmakers voted to have the issue put before voters but this was overruled by the Nebraska Supreme Court.
Earlier this year an initiative to have hold’em poker (although, curiously enough, not Omaha) legalized and recognized as a game of skill failed to gain any traction in the state legislature.
“It’s my viewpoint that a large number of Nebraskans still don’t support casino gambling,” said State Senator Beau McCoy (R-Omaha). “Some may enjoy going to surrounding states to casinos as a recreational activity, but at the end of the day, they don’t want it in their home state.”