Nebraska Gambling Backers Sue State Over Removal of Casino Measure From Ballot

  • Case relates to three initiatives which would permit casino gambling at Nebraska's racetracks
  • State Secretary Bob Evnen struck measure off ballot over misleading and unclear language
  • Supreme Court will hear case from casino backers group, with oral arguments set for Sep 2
  • Evnen believes measure would open door to tribal casinos permitted under federal law
  • Nebraska has seen multiple attempts to legalize different forms of gambling since 2004
hand placing vote in ballot box
A group of Nebraska gambling supporters will go up against the state in a Supreme Court Case over the exclusion of a casino gambling measure in the November ballot. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Supreme Court to hear KMN’s case

Backers of gambling in Nebraska will go up against the state in a Supreme Court case after a measure to introduce casino gambling was removed from a November ballot.

The plaintiffs are representatives of the Keep the Money in Nebraska (KMN) campaign, an initiative backed by several gaming and horse racing operators that aims to introduce casino gambling to the state. The campaign is spearheaded by Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

language used was misleading and unclear

Three intiatives to legalize casino gambling were set to appear on the November ballot after KMN received 475,000 signatures from registered voters. However, Republican Secretary of State Bob Evnen refused to include the entries, arguing that the language used was misleading and unclear.

After vowing to sue Evnen and the state, members of KMN filed a suit with Nebraska’s Supreme Court on August 25. The group was hoping to bypass the district court because of a September 11 deadline for ballot entries. On August 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear KMN’s case, with oral arguments scheduled for September 2.

Removal of the casino measure

If passed, KMN’s three initiatives would alter the state constitution to authorize casino gaming at Nebraska’s racetracks. They would also create laws for the regulation and taxation of the gambling industry, with some of the tax revenue going towards property tax relief.

Evnen found one of the ballot initiatives, which would legalize gambling at state-licensed racetracks, to be “materially misleading” to voters. The statesman said this would allow casinos on Nebraska’s tribal lands, even if they did not have a racetrack.

Under federal law, tribal class III gaming properties can only be offered on tribal land if they are offered elsewhere in the state. However, the tribes would still be required to form a compact with the state of Nebraska before being permitted to introduce gambling properties on their land.

As reported by the Sioux City Journal, Lynne McNally, executive vice president of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, described Evnen’s decision to remove the measure as “incredibly unfair”. According to McNally, Evnen’s office had reviewed the entry’s language before the campaign and found no issue.

Previous attempts to legalize gambling

In Nebraska, the main forms of legal gambling are horse race betting, the state lottery, charitable gaming, and keno. There are also four tribal gambling facilities which operate in the state. Measures to introduce commercial casino gambling were unsuccessful in 2004, 2006, and 2014.

measure was pulled from the ballot because it received only 42,000 signatures

In 2016, KMN led a similar campaign aiming to introduce casino gambling at the state’s racetracks. The measure was pulled from the ballot because it received only 42,000 signatures, well under the required number to warrant its consideration. The group is currently suing the company hired to gather signatures for this campaign.

In February of this year, a Nebraskan legislative public hearing considered proposals for the legalization of sports betting and other forms of gambling. Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha, the main proponent for a legalized sports betting market, said it would generate up to $320m for the state. However, the proposals saw staunch opposition from a number of sources concerned with its negative impact on communities.