The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Thursday that state voters should get the opportunity this year to legalize casino gambling in cities with horse tracks.
On a 4-3 vote, the high court overturned Secretary of State Bob Evnen's ruling last month that had kept three casino gambling measures off the Nov. 2 general election ballot, Sioux City Journal reports. The Supreme Court ruling, which came one day before the deadline to certify the measure, is a win for Ho-Chunk, the firm that poured millions of dollars into the effort to collect 475,000 signatures to place the initiatives on the ballot.
Ho-Chunk, the economic development corporation for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, plans to build a casino and events center at its Atokad track if the measures win approval from voters. The three measures would change Nebraska’s constitution to allow casino gambling and create two laws to regulate and tax the industry. If passed, some of the added revenue would be funneled into a state property tax credit.
Evnen took issue with the measure that said casino gambling would only be allowed at state-licensed racetracks. He said the statement was “materially misleading” to voters because the measure also would allow casinos on tribal lands in Nebraska, even if they don’t have a racetrack. The court rejected Evnen's argument, noting that the measures are broken into three separate items that voters can consider individually.
Opponents, which included Gov. Pete Ricketts, had fought against expanded gambling in the state, arguing it will contribute to added addiction and bankruptcies.
Ho-Chunk partnered with the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, along with Omaha Exposition and Racing in conducting the petition drive.
Racetracks in or near South Sioux City, Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Hastings and Columbus also would be able to conduct casino gambling under the proposal. A similar petition effort launched by Ho-Chunk in 2016 failed before reaching the ballot after then-Secretary of State John Gale's office rejected nearly 42,000 signatures, leaving the initiatives short of the required number. Ho-Chunk later sued the company it paid to circulate the petitions. That lawsuit is pending.