Nebraska Supreme Court Sides With Casino Backers in Ballot Trial

  • Court judges sided with Keep the Money in Nebraska campaigners in split 4-3 decision
  • Three initiatives would legalize casino gambling, create regulation and taxation laws
  • Measure initially received support from 475,000 registered voters to appear on ballot
  • State Secretary Evnen's refusal to include entry on November ballot led to KMN lawsuit
  • Main opposition will be led by Gambling With the Good Life anti-casino campaign group
hand casting paper vote in ballot box
Nebraska’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of casino supporters in a trial over the exclusion of casino gambling initiatives from the state’s general election ballot. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Victory for casino supporters

A casino gambling measure is set to be included on Nebraska’s November general election ballot after the state’s Supreme Court ruled against its exclusion in a split 4-3 decision.

The ruling is the result of a trial between a group of Nebraska gambling supporters and Secretary of State Bob Evnen. The plaintiffs filed a suit with Nebraska’s Supreme Court after Evnen refused to include three initiatives to legalize casino gambling on the upcoming ballot.

initiatives would authorize casino gambling at Nebraska’s racetracks

If passed on November 3, the initiatives would authorize casino gambling at Nebraska’s racetracks and create laws for the regulation and taxation of the gambling industry. The majority of industry tax revenue would be allocated towards property tax relief.

Despite Evnen’s argument that the language used in the initiatives was misleading, the court ruled that “none of the (three) initiatives is legally insufficient and that all three should be placed on the ballot.” In response, Evnen said he will immediately certify the inclusion of the measure.

What let to the dispute

The casino measure was originally introduced by the Keep the Money in Nebraska (KMN) campaign, an initiative supported by several gaming and horse racing operators. Spearheaded by Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic arm of Nebraska’s Winnebago Tribe, the campaign aims to legalize casino gambling in the state.

After receiving 475,000 signatures from registered voters, the measure was set to appear on the November ballot. However, Evnen refused to include the entry after deciding that one of its initiatives would be “materially misleading” to voters. KMN supporters then filed an immediate legal challenge.

Evnen’s argument revolved around one aspect of the measure, which would legalize gambling at state-licensed racetracks. He maintained that, as a result of federal law, which declares that tribal class III gaming properties can be offered on tribal land if they are offered elsewhere in the state, the initiative would open the door for casinos on Nebraska’s tribal lands.

Support and opposition

Nebraska has seen a number of failed attempts to legalize casino gambling in 2004, 2006, 2014, and 2016. Despite this, CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc. Lance Morgan said he is confident that the initiatives will receive voters’ approval in the 2020 ballot.

As reported by the Associated Press last year, Morgan estimated that the legalization of casino gambling in Nebraska would generate $80m annually in tax revenue for the state. Supporters of the measure also argue that it would prevent Iowa casinos from profiting from Nebraska-based gamblers.

We will be in for the fight of our lives.”

The inclusion of the initiatives on the November ballot will see both sides of the argument compete to win voter support. The opposition will be led by Gambling With the Good Life, an anti-gambling group which has successfully defeated previous campaigns to legalize gambling in Nebraska. A statement on the organization’s website read: “We will be in for the fight of our lives.”