Nebraska Governor Calls Casino Ballot Measure ‘A Losing Bet’ In New Column

Written By Derek Helling on August 19, 2020 - Last Updated on September 13, 2020

Pete Ricketts leaves little doubt about where he stands on brick-and-mortar gambling in his state. The Nebraska governor opposes casinos on largely moral grounds.

However, whether Ricketts’ opinion will be enough to sway state voters remains to be seen. The opposite side of the debate may prove equally adept in its messaging.

Why the Nebraska governor opposes casinos

In Ricketts’ column on Aug. 10 entitled, “Gambling with Nebraska: A Losing Bet,” his primary opposition centers around “social harms.” He argues that introducing casinos into Nebraska would cause an increase in compulsive gambling.

Ricketts doesn’t cite evidence to support his claim that allowing legal gambling would cause more Nebraskans to develop gambling problems. He does, however, present a couple of examples of individual Nebraskans suffering from compulsive gambling issues.

Also, in his column, Ricketts argues — without stating what has convinced him of it — that casinos will bring more organized crime to Nebraska. Conversely, he acknowledges that casinos would bring new revenue to the state; however, the “social costs” outweigh the benefit.

Ricketts rightfully points out that NE voters have opted not to authorize casino gaming in their state before. That may not hold true this year, however.

A possible November to remember

Thanks to the work of the group Keep the Money in Nebraska, three separate ballot measures will be up for consideration by Nebraskans this November. If one of the measures gets the requisite 50%+1 of the vote, it will pave the way for up to six casinos.

Any of the three measures would amend the state constitution to allow for legal gambling and could bring casinos to the following Nebraska cities:

  • Columbus
  • Grand Island
  • Hastings
  • Lincoln
  • Omaha
  • South Sioux City

As Ricketts pointed out in his column and to the group’s point, the lack of casinos in NE isn’t keeping Nebraskans from gambling. Furthermore, it merely forces them to leave the state to do so.

In that way, neighboring states with legal gambling, including Iowa and Colorado, are funding personnel and programs using Nebraskan dollars. The state is missing out on millions in revenue, which is the effect the group Keep The Money In Nebraska wants to limit.

Casinos in Iowa along the NE border can attest to the fact that Nebraskans are avid gamblers. As a matter of fact, the Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs saw 60% of the dollars wagered on college football futures put down on the Cornhuskers last year.

To be clear, this referendum would not legalize sports betting in NE. Further legislative action would be necessary, perhaps through another constitutional amendment.

What’s certain is that after November’s election, either Ricketts or the organizers behind Keep the Money in Nebraska will be disappointed. The election could come down to which party is most effective in getting its message out.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. 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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