A proposed constitutional amendment authorizing casino gambling at Nebraska horse race tracks may be on the general election ballot in 2020.

Lance Morgan, president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., announced Thursday that a ballot initiative proposal has been filed with the secretary of state's office.

Expanded gambling would generate an estimated $50 million in new state tax revenue that could help fund property tax relief and support public schools, Morgan said.

"Nebraskans' money is funding other states' priorities," he said. "There's a lot of good this money can do right here in Nebraska."

Casinos operate commercially in several border states, including Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota.

Nebraska is "missing out on taxes and proceeds from about $500 million that residents wager annually in surrounding states," the petition sponsors said in a news release.

A similar petition effort in 2016 failed to acquire the required number of signatures.  

As was the case three years ago, the initiative campaign committee will be called "Keep the Money in Nebraska."

Accompanying the proposed constitutional amendment will be two statutory initiatives to regulate casino gambling.

Ho-Chunk, which owns the Atokad track in South Sioux City, is partnering with the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent Protection Association to bring the issue to Nebraska voters.

Those connected to the racing industry have long viewed casinos as a lifeline for the state's horse racing tracks, which have suffered through decades of decline.  

In 2017, wagering on live races and races simulcast to the wagering facilities in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island and Columbus totaled $67.9 million, the lowest total since simulcast wagering was added in Nebraska in the 1980s.

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Many cited competition for gambling dollars in neighboring states as the demise of Aksarben, the nationally recognized Omaha track that closed in 1995.

This year, live racing is scheduled for 31 days at Fonner Park in Grand Island, 14 days in Columbus, nine days at Horsemen's Park in Omaha, three days at Lincoln Race Course and one day each at Atokad and Fairplay Park in Hastings.

Ho-Chunk is an economic development corporation owned by the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska.

The Winnebago Tribe operates WinnaVegas Casino Resort in Sloan, Iowa.

Nebraska allows betting on horse racing, keno, lottery and bingo but has long resisted expanding casino gambling or video slots. Referendums to expand gambling failed in 2004 and 2006. In 2014, an issue with the wording of a referendum kept it off the ballot; it would have allowed historical horse racing machines, which allow bettors to place wagers on unidentified horses from previously run races nationwide.

The Nebraska State Racing Commission is currently considering Fonner Park's request to add wagering on historical horse races.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.


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