- Associated Press - Friday, September 5, 2014

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Voters will not see a measure this November that would have allowed electronic betting on previously run horse races, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The justices said the measure violated the state’s constitutional provision against asking voters to cast one vote on two unrelated issues, and directed Secretary of State John Gale not to certify the measure or place it before voters on the Nov. 4 ballot. Gale didn’t immediately return a call from The Associated Press.

The ballot language would have given voters the chance to approve wagering on previously run horse races that would have been shown on video screens at Nebraska’s five licensed race tracks. It also said tax revenue from both live and replayed horse races would have gone toward education, property tax relief and a compulsive gambling treatment program.

“I am so happy!” said Pat Loontjer, executive director of Gambling with the Good Life, who brought the court action. If the court had not granted her request, “The campaign was going to be horrible,” Loontjer said.

A spokesman for the measure’s supporters, Jordan McGrain, said he was disappointed Nebraska residents won’t get to decide the issue.

“I thought there would be some deference paid to the legislative process, but clearly that did not occur,” McGrain said. He also said he didn’t know whether there would be another legislative attempt.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, whose office defended the ballot measure, said he was pleased to see it removed.

“We defended it. We did what we always do, but I’m just not somebody who supports expanded gambling,” Bruning said. “I think the court got it right.”

The court’s decision comes a week before the ballot certification deadline of Sept. 12.

“This is the final word on LR41CA,” said Steven Grasz, Loontjer’s attorney, referring to the legislative resolution passed this spring. “The Legislature would have to start over, if they wished to do so, in the next session.”

Loontjer and her lawyer had said combining both issues - whether to allow the machines and how the money is spent - would have denied voters the opportunity to say yes to one and no to the other.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said the question was whether the wagering “for property tax relief and education had a natural and necessary connection to legalizing a new form of wagering.” The judges decided the answer was no, saying that the “only connection” between the appropriation and wagering proposals was to encourage voters to approve a new gambling game.

Opponents have said the machines would effectively open the door to casino gambling because they run as fast as regular slots and can be just as addictive.

Gale had approved the measure for the ballot, saying he thought the questions were adequately related and thus didn’t view the measure as unconstitutional.

Backers said allowing the bets would have helped the struggling horse racing industry and increase live racing in the state.

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