High Court: Voters Can Decide Whether To Allow Casino Gambling In Nebraska

Posted on September 21, 2020

Barring anything unforeseen happening, Nebraska voters will have their say on state gambling expansion again in November.

The ruling by the state Supreme Court means that three Nebraska casino measures will be on the ballot statewide on Election Day 2020.

Will this attempt to clear a path for brick-and-mortar casinos in the Cornhusker State to be more successful than its predecessors? Well, it’s possible to make arguments for both sides.

Nebraska casino ballot measures drama

The Supreme Court’s ruling ended the debate over whether the referendum will happen in November.

The fact that it took the High Court’s intervention is interesting.

The drama began earlier this year when the group Keep the Money in Nebraska started pushing petitions. NE law contains a procedure in which voters can amend the state constitution via referendum.

Such petitions are the first step.

The advocacy group was successful in amassing enough signatures before the deadline. However, NE Secretary of State Bob Evnen refused to certify the ballot measures.

Evnen said that the language of the measures was confusing and misleading. While his decision prompted an automatic legal challenge, the Keep the Money in Nebraska group wasn’t content to wait on those results.

Instead, the group filed its own lawsuit against Evnen with the NE Supreme Court. Now that the court has ruled in its favor, all its efforts aren’t lost.

However, that may be a temporary situation. It could still be all for naught if voters don’t approve any of the measures in November. There’s reason to believe that will be the case.

Casino vote in November could go either way

Staunch opponents of gambling, including NE Gov. Pete Ricketts, stand by their convictions. For them, gambling is a moral issue and not overridden by the economic benefits of new jobs and tax revenue.

That led to previous defeats of similar measures. The most recent attempt was in 2004 when a casino gambling measure only got 47% of the vote. Ratification requires a simple majority of 50% plus one.

The potential economic impact is what Keep the Money in Nebraska has touted from its inception. The group argues that a significant number of Nebraskans are currently traveling out of state to gamble and therefore, NE is losing out on the impact of those tax dollars.

That sales pitch may prove especially prudent in the current climate. The state projected a $54 million budget shortfall earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While regular tax revenue from casinos wouldn’t come to fruition for a while, the state could see gains from the gaming licenses sales in the short term.

The proposed framework would authorize up to six casinos at Nebraska racetracks.

It’s uncertain how much each casino license would cost, but that could translate into millions of dollars of new revenue. Even though that likely won’t make up the entire deficit, it could help save a few jobs and programs.

Ultimately, the casino measures on the ballot may come down to which side is most effective at getting their message out. What’s certain is that NE voters will decide in November.

Photo by AP Photo / Nati Harnik
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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