Stakeholders in Nebraska’s gambling trade seem close to putting the issue of legalising racinos before local voters on Election Day this November.
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] campaign to legalise casinos at horse racing tracks in the US state of Nebraska is expected to successfully put the issue before residents at the coming presidential election.
Pro-casino group Keep the Money in Nebraska (KMN) has raised over $1m (E890,000) in order to place a referendum question on the Nebraska ballot at this November’s election. The group says it has already surpassed its goal in terms of the number of public signatures collected on its petition- which will be put before Nebraska secretary of state John Gale before July 7.
“We’re supremely confident we’ll gather a sufficient number of signatures, but we’re going to keep running as if we’re behind,” group spokesperson Scott Lautenbaugh recently told local news source the Lincoln Journal Star. “[The response] has been more positive than we ever dared to hope – people understand our message and they’re tired of the status quo.”
At present, four tribal casinos operate within Nebraskan jurisdiction. The state permits horse racing, Keno and a lottery, but has resisted previous attempts to introduce video EGMs. As a result, neighbouring Iowa enjoys a regular flow of Nebraskan player-traffic. According to figures from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission – Nebraska residents spent in excess of $327m (E290.4m) in Iowan gaming establishments throughout the course of 2013.
We’re supremely confident we’ll gather a sufficient number of signatures, but we’re going to keep running as if we’re behind
To date, KMN’s primary sponsor has been Ho- Chunk – the economic development corporation of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. The company has stated that it wishes to reopen the Aktokad Downs racetrack in South Sioux City, with the intention to build a new casino as an addition to the property. In its previous form, Aktokad Downs closed in 2012.
Ho-Chunk’s president and chief executive Lance Morgan has said that the new casino would allow the Winnebago to recoup some of the losses it sustained when the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opened in Sioux City, Iowa, two years ago. The Winnebago Tribe owns and operates the WinnaVegas casino resort in nearby Sloan, Iowa.
KMN has proposed a 20 per cent tax-rate for all prospective Nebraskan casino revenue – and estimates that new legislation could generate as much as $100m (E88.8m) every year for the state’s coffers.
Still, conservatives in the state have been vocal in their opposition to any change in the current law. An anti-casino coalition of local community leaders, clergy and business people – including current governor Pete Ricketts – have assembled under their own banner, “Gambling with the Good Life.” The campaign’s executive director Pat Loontjer claimed that it would attempt to highlight the perils of problem gambling through informative events and sermons at churches and other public places around the states.
“Basically, every church in Nebraska will get the word out to vote no,” she remarked.
KEEP THE MONEY IN NEBRASKA MANIFESTO
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ccording to lobbying group, Keep the Money in Nebraska, the Midwestern US state loses millions in tax revenues each year while Iowa and South Dakota win big through casino gambling. “Gaming can generate $120m (E106m) in additional tax revenue each year for state and local governments according to recent studies,” the group stated. If we keep the money in Nebraska, this money could go to cutting property and income taxes; much needed roads construction and repair; critical structural repair on over 2,600 Nebraska bridges; early childhood education; and post-secondary education.”
It added: “Additionally, construction jobs will be created to build the casinos and new service industry jobs will be created in and around the casinos. Nebraska will benefit from an increase in tourism helping area businesses. We already have a rich tradition of horse racing and gaming will provide a boost to that tradition