- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A proposal to allow casino gambling in Nebraska has failed to qualify for the November general election ballot, the state’s top elections official announced Thursday.

Secretary of State John Gale said organizers of a petition drive didn’t submit enough verified signatures to put the issue before voters.

Gale said organizers turned in 119,666 signatures for the proposed constitutional amendment, but 41,710 were rejected after being reviewed by county election officials. At least 117,188 valid signatures were needed.

More than 24,000 signatures were rejected because signers weren’t registered in the county indicated on the petition sheet, Gale said. Nearly 4,600 were rejected as duplicates and more than 3,000 were turned down because signers were not registered voters.

Petition organizers spent nearly $1.4 million over 10 months to try to place the issue on the ballot, according to state campaign finance records. The vast majority of that money came from Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska’s economic development corporation.

Ho-Chunk has said it wants to reopen Atokad Downs, a South Sioux City race track that closed in 2012, and operate a casino on the site.

“It’s definitely a disappointment,” Ho-Chunk CEO Lance Morgan said after the announcement. “The primary disappointment is that so many people support it.”

Morgan said he was “absolutely shocked” that so many signatures were declared invalid, and organizers were still trying to determine what went wrong. He said his group’s polling indicated strong support for casino gambling in Nebraska, even though voters have rejected gaming measures in the past.

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska owns and operates WinnaVegas Casino Resort in Sloan, Iowa, but Morgan has said the facility lost some of its market share when the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opened in Sioux City, Iowa, in 2014.

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