- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A coalition that has for years battled vigorously against allowing casinos in Nebraska will once again muster its resources to fight a ballot campaign to allow casinos at licensed horse racing tracks.

Gambling With the Good Life launched its campaign against the ballot measure Thursday at a news conference, backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, family advocacy groups, a handful of state senators and former Husker football coach and U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne.

“If you look at the social effects of increased gambling, you see increased child abuse, increased spouse abuse, increased embezzlement, and you just can’t collect enough tax dollars to make up for it,” said Ricketts, whose political career began by standing with the group in 2004, the last time voters rejected casino gambling ballot measures. Ricketts said he will continue to financially support the anti-gambling organization.

The petition group, Keep the Money in Nebraska, began gathering signatures in October to place three gambling-related proposals on the November 2016 ballot. One would amend the state constitution to give voters the power to legalize casinos through ballot measures. The second ballot proposal would change state law to officially allow casinos, while creating a Nebraska Gaming and Racing Commission with seven members appointed by the governor.

The third would require casinos to pay a one-time state licensing fee of $1 million, and would impose a 20 percent tax on each casino’s gross gambling revenue. Of that revenue, 75 percent would go to the state and 25 percent would go to the local government in the city or county where the casino is located.

The pro-gambling group says the $500 million that Nebraska residents spend on gambling in surrounding states could be used to lower taxes. And spokesman Scott Lautenbaugh, a former state senator, said the coalition already has more signatures they predicted they would have at this point. It has until July 7 to submit signatures for each measure.

Gambling With the Good Life cannot compete with the money financing the petition drive, which is being backed mostly by Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, Executive Director Pat Loontjer said. But she added they’ll rely on coalitions of religious organizations, citizens, state and business leaders to voice opposition.

Former congressman and Omaha mayor Hal Daub, who opposes gambling, called the wording of the petitions intentionally confusing, and worried that the proposed regulatory committee could operate without legislative or executive oversight and take advantage of Native American communities.

“If these petitions are passed, the floodgates will be opened to unregulated, untaxed slot machine gambling, not only for Native American casino proliferation, but for out-of-state profit casino operations,” Daub said.

Nebraska allows keno, horse racing and a lottery, but voters have resisted video gambling machines. Lautenbaugh said casino gambling would generate an estimated $90 million to $100 million a year in tax revenue for local and state governments.

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