Nebraska Supreme Court to Weigh Arguments on Gambling Expansion Vote

Posted on: September 3, 2020, 06:12h. 

Last updated on: September 3, 2020, 09:09h.

It is now up to the Nebraska Supreme Court whether state voters can decide in November whether to approve a measure that would allow expanded gambling at the state’s horse racing tracks. Attorneys presented their cases to the high court on Wednesday.

Nebraska Supreme Court Weighs Gaming Expansion
Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican (above) and his colleagues on the high court are to consider whether the state should proceed with a proposed referendum on expanded gambling at the state’s horse racetracks. (Image: Elsie Stormberg/Omaha World-Herald)

The key issue is whether Nebraska’s constitution should be amended to permit expanded gambling at the commercial horse racetracks. If the measure is approved, expanded gambling could be offered at tracks in or near Columbus, Grand Island, Hastings, Lincoln, Omaha, and South Sioux City, the Omaha World-Herald, a local newspaper, reported.

Supporters of the referendum gathered some 475,000 signatures, which is sufficient to place the proposal on the ballot. But Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen opposes the vote.

Evnen said the language used in the initiatives was unclear and was not in the correct form, which he says, requires a solitary question placed before voters and not three issues, the World-Herald said.

Measure May Lead to Tribal Gaming Expansion

Another concern Evnen voiced is that the state could see expanded tribal gaming if the proposal is approved, the news report adds. Opponents suggest it has hidden language that would lead to more gaming on the state’s tribal lands.

In a brief submitted to the Supreme Court, one attorney, David Lopez, who represents Richard Loveless, a gaming opponent, called the initiatives a “fundamentally deceptive, multi-subject constitutional amendment measure.”

The … Constitutional Initiative … would have Nebraska voters believe they are simply authorizing the expansion of gambling at licensed racetracks,” Lopez said, the World-Herald reported. “In reality, it would … authorize full-scale casino gambling on tribal lands across Nebraska.”

But Attorney Andre Barry, who represents Keep the Money in Nebraska, a pro-casino group, challenged the reasoning used in the opponents’ brief when it comes to a state statute that says, “Initiative measures shall contain only one subject.”

“They spend 122 pages trying to wring new meaning out of those seven words,” Barry said in his argument. Also, he said there would be an open process in any tribal gaming expansion.

“There is no hidden authorization of Indian gaming,” Barry added about the language used in the initiative. “This action is a matter of public record.”

In addition, supporters of expanded gambling say it will lead to more than $300 million annually in revenue, and would add 4,500 jobs. The state could also see property tax relief.

Proponents of the gaming vote say Nebraska is losing money, as its residents are wagering in neighboring states. For instance, there are three casinos in Council Bluffs, Iowa, about four miles from Omaha.

Gaming Expansion Supporters Say Wording Legal

“We disagree with the Secretary of State Evnen’s assessment of the initiatives’ language, especially considering the recent legal precedence of Christensen v. Gale, 2018, and several similar rulings,” Lynne McNally, secretary-treasurer of Keep the Money in Nebraska, said in a statement provided to “Given past rulings on similar cases, we hope the Nebraska Supreme Court agrees that the wording of the initiatives is legally sound and Nebraskans will have the opportunity to have their voices heard on Nov. 3 as a result.”

The deadline for the ballot to get certified to go before voters in November is September 11.

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