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Gambling on the November Ballot in Nebraska: What Are the Odds?

The Nebraska Supreme Court has been hearing arguments from supporters and opponents of gambling as to whether or not certain forms should be included on the November ballot. 

Three voter initiatives have been proposed, which would enable the Cornhusker State to allow, regulate and tax casino wagering at racing tracks. 

State Secretary Bob Evnen has already rejected the proposals. However, enough signatures had been gathered by supporters of expanding state gambling laws for it to appear on this fall’s ballot. 

The Supreme Court must make a decision by this Friday (September 11th) in order for the proposals to appear on the ballot for the general election, which takes place on November 3rd.

Evnen opposes the three proposals that have been put ahead 

Last month, the Secretary of State halted the progression of the three proposed additions to the 2020 ballot. In his eyes, they did not address a single issue – which is necessary by law. 

Moreover, he argued that the language was confusing for voters to understand. One area he was concerned about was that those making a selection on the ballot might not be aware that expanded gambling on Native American territory could happen if these initiatives went through. 

When it came to the initiative that included using tax income to offer relief on property taxes in the state, Evnen argued that this was “logrolling” – so basically an illegal exchange of favors in a political sense. 

Pro-gambling groups appeal to the court 

After Evnen shunned the three proposed initiatives, groups in favor of gambling expansion in Nebraska went to the high court to ask for his decision to be changed. According to their lawyers, three separate initiatives were created to make sure that they were compliant with laws in Nebraska that ask for ballot measures to address a single issue. 

Andre Barry is an Attorney who is representing Keep the Money in Nebraska, a group which supports casinos and – as the name suggests – wants gambling to contribute to the state’s economic growth. He argues that the language is simple and makes it clear that “initiative measures will only contain one subject. When referring to anti-gambling groups, Barry argued that “they spend 122 pages trying to wring new meaning out of those seven words”. 

Evnen was concerned about gambling being allowed because of federal US law related to tribal gaming. In accordance with this, Native American tribes can negotiate pacts to open gambling facilities on their own land – as long as the state they’re in has passed whatever type of gambling they want to offer into law. When it came to the topic of Native American land, Barry said that any tribal casino would still need governmental approval which was not carried out behind closed doors. He said: 

“There is no hidden authorization of Indian gaming. This action is a matter of public record.” 

Evnen still has some support on his side, though 

Although there is clear support for gambling expansion in Nebraska, not everybody is on board with the idea. David Lopez is representing Richard Loveless, who is an opponent of the proposals that have been put forward. He spoke in a legal brief, in which he said that the initiatives are a “fundamentally deceptive, multi-subject constitutional amendment measure”. He also had the following to say. 

“The underlying Constitutional Initiative, by its plain text, would have Nebraska voters believe they are simply authorizing the expansion of gambling at licensed racetracks.

“In reality, it would additionally – and automatically – authorize full-scale casino gambling on tribal lands across Nebraska.”

Gambling in Nebraska 

The Constitution of Nebraska bans games of chance from being offered, and has done so ever since the 19th century. 

Though efforts have been made to expand wagering capabilities within state borders, Nebraska continues to heavily restrict most forms of gambling. There are few land-based casinos, and those that do exist are operated by Native American tribes. 

Sports betting is also illegal, though a bill to try and change this was put forward in January 2020 (and has been met with a lot of opposition). 

According to supporters of gambling in the state, allowing casinos to operate at the six racing tracks could lead to significant economic benefits. In addition to creating 4,500 new jobs, operations could generate $300 million in annual revenue. 

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