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Osborne, Ricketts warn against casino gambling's social costs
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Osborne, Ricketts warn against casino gambling's social costs

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High-profile opponents of this year's initiative proposal to authorize the advent of casino gambling in Nebraska at horse race tracks warned Monday that it would result in social costs that far exceed anticipated revenue and permanently damage Nebraska's quality of life.

Every dollar in resulting revenue would lead to three or four dollars in social costs, former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne warned, and "once you start it, you're never going to undo it."

"This is going to be bad for Nebraska" if it is enacted, Gov. Pete Ricketts said. "And it would detrimental to our families."

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Former Gov. Kay Orr said Nebraskans can expect "a false narrative" from proponents of the proposed constitutional amendment, which is on the November general election ballot, as they attempt to secure support.

Orr said former Govs. Dave Heineman, Bob Kerrey and Mike Johanns also oppose the initiative, which would authorize designated casino gambling and allocate 70% of state revenue derived from that new form of gambling activity in Nebraska to local property tax relief.

Opponents of the measure joined Pat Loontjer of Omaha, president of Gambling with the Good Life, at a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda to voice their opposition to the initiative.

Loontjer has led the battle against expanded gambling options in Nebraska for 25 years.

This year's battle may be the most challenging, Loontjer suggested, with proponents of the measure "already spending $2.5 million and I can't imagine how much more" before next month's election in attempting to gain support of Nebraska voters.

Opponents could be outspent 25 to 1, she said.

If this constitutional amendment is adopted, Loontjer said, "Nebraska will never be the same."

"When it comes to casino gambling, the house always wins," Nate Grasz, policy director of the Nebraska Family Alliance, warned.

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The three-pronged Keep the Money in Nebraska initiative is sponsored by Ho-Chunk, Inc., the Winnebago Tribe's economic development corporation, in partnership with the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and Omaha Exposition and Racing.

Supporters argue that Nebraskans already engage in casino gambling in bordering states and help fund economic activity and provide tax revenue in those states. The most visible example is gambling at casinos in Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the border from Omaha.

Race tracks operate in or near Omaha, Lincoln, South Sioux City, Grand Island, Hastings and Columbus, but new tracks presumably would also spring up if the initiative is enacted by Nebraska voters.

"It would open a can of worms," Loontjer said. "Soon, there would be casinos all over the state."

Osborne said expanded gambling would "certainly damage the quality of living in Nebraska (and) the people who would bear the biggest burden would be families of those with gambling problems."

"You're taking money from your neighbor" when you win at a casino, Loontjer said, because it is true that "the house always wins."

The initiative first had to clear a challenge in the Nebraska Supreme Court before gaining access to the Nov. 3 ballot since it is framed in the form of three separate votes. The court ruled on a 4-3 vote that the proposal did not violate constitutional requirements for a single topic.

The 2020 Journal Star general election Voter's Guide

Your guide to Lincoln-area and statewide races and ballot questions that will appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Click on a race name to see the candidates and learn about their views on the issues.

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IN LINCOLN

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

On Twitter @LJSdon

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