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Supreme Court receives casino gambling initiative arguments

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Nebraska measure could tip the number of states with casinos

The Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, is seen across the river from downtown Omaha (rear), where casino gambling is prohibited. A casino gambling initiative will be on the November ballot.

The Nebraska Supreme Court heard familiar arguments Wednesday as it considered a challenge to Secretary of State Bob Evnen's decision to withhold a three-pronged initiative legalizing casino gambling at horse racetracks from the general election ballot.

Evnen said the proposal did not adhere to ballot requirements for a single topic when it was split into three votes and he said it contained unclear language.

Bob Evnen

Bob Evnen

Lawyers for sponsors of the issue told the court that division into three separate votes was designed to adhere to the single-topic requirement.

And they suggested that the court has never withheld a proposed constitutional amendment from the ballot based on the possibility of voter confusion. 

Secretary of state blocks gambling initiatives from November ballot

Opponents of the measure have also argued that it contains a hidden authorization for casino gambling on tribal lands; supporters told the court there is no such hidden authorization.

A court ruling is anticipated before a Sept. 11 deadline for Evnen to certify whether the issue will appear on the November ballot. 

The Keep the Money in Nebraska proposal was sponsored by Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe's economic development corporation, in partnership with the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. 

Racetracks in or near Omaha, Lincoln, South Sioux City, Grand Island, Hastings and Columbus would be positioned to conduct casino gambling under the proposal. 

And new tracks presumably could spring up if the proposal was enacted by Nebraska voters.

One portion of the proposal would devote state revenue generated by casino gambling predominantly to property tax relief.

Early estimates suggested an initial $45 million allocation from an estimated revenue base of $65 million that presumably would grow.

Casino gambling is viewed as a lifeline for the state's declining horse racing industry. 

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Inclusion of the proposal on the ballot is expected to help drive voter turnout for the general election, most of which is likely to be conducted by mail, and is likely to ignite what could be an expensive TV advertising war.

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