LINCOLN — Tom Osborne knew to expect unhappy fan mail following a loss when he coached the Nebraska football team.
“The really nasty ones came from people who lost a bet,” Osborne told reporters Thursday at the State Capitol. “So I’ve never been particularly fond of gambling for that reason.”
Osborne shared the story after being introduced as honorary chairman of a campaign to defeat an effort to legalize casino gambling in Nebraska. He was flanked by numerous supporters of Gambling With the Good Life, including Gov. Pete Ricketts and University of Nebraska Regent Hal Daub.
They urged voters to reject three gambling-related petitions currently being circulated, including one that would change the Nebraska Constitution to permit casino gambling at the state’s five racetracks.
“The reason I’m opposed to casino gambling in Nebraska is quite simple: It’s bad for people,” Ricketts said, citing higher rates of child abuse, spousal abuse and embezzlement.
Last year a group called Keep the Money in Nebraska launched the petition drive that they say will help the struggling horse racing industry and stop the flow of gambling dollars to surrounding states.
Former State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, the group’s spokesman, said Thursday that opponents use misinformation in their effort to scare voters. He cited reports that Nebraskans already spend up to $500 million annually in states that allow casinos.
“Gambling With the Good Life has opposed expanded gambling in the state since 1996. Can you imagine how much tax revenue our state has lost out on over that time?” Lautenbaugh asked.
Based on the latest reports filed with the state, the pro-gambling group has raised nearly $635,000 for its petition drive. Most of the funding has been provided by Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development wing of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. The rest has been contributed by horse racing groups, including Horseman’s Park in Omaha.
To put the issues on the Nov. 8 ballot, the pro-gambling group will need to get valid signatures from 10 percent of registered voters, or about 113,900 people, on the proposed constitutional amendment petition.
Signatures from 7 percent of registered voters, or about 79,700 people, will be needed on each of two initiative petitions, which would create laws to allow gambling at licensed racetracks and to direct how tax revenues from gambling would be divided.
The drive, for all three petitions, also has to collect signatures from at least 5 percent of registered voters in a minimum of 38 counties. The signatures will be due by July 7.
Before he took office in 2015, Ricketts served for 10 years on the board of the Omaha-based Gambling With the Good Life.
The governor said Thursday that he will provide financial support to the new anti-gambling campaign. Last year the former corporate executive gave $200,000 to a petition drive to let voters decide whether Nebraska should keep the death penalty.
Daub, a former Omaha mayor and an attorney, said Thursday that the petition language is complex and could have a far-reaching effect on Nebraska’s gambling laws.
One of the statutory petitions says the state may tax 20 percent of the net proceeds on the casinos. That means the tax doesn’t kick in until after the casinos pay out winnings and other expenses. Daub argued that the tax should apply to gross proceeds, as current law does with wagering on horse races, so the state could collect more revenue.
The petition also says 75 percent of the tax revenue collected from casinos would go into the state’s general fund and the remaining 25 percent would go to the local governments where the casinos are located.
“All other cities would receive nothing except the economic and social side effects,” Daub said.
Pat Loontjer, director of Gambling With the Good Life, said her group will raise money for its effort but predicted that it will be far less than the $1 million or more the pro-gambling side will most likely spend. The anti-gambling group spent about $300,000 to defeat casino ballot initiatives in 2004, compared with $7 million put up by those pushing the initiatives.
Loontjer said the casinos would be regulated by a seven-member board with no oversight by the Legislature or governor. She called the petition language “confusing” and “deceitful,” because the state would have no authority to prevent casinos from opening on tribal lands or to regulate them when they do.
Lautenbaugh countered by calling the claims “outright lies.”
The seven members of the commission regulating casinos would be appointed by the governor, he said. The commission would have to approve any non-Indian casinos beyond those operated by the racetracks, Lautenbaugh added.
The state would collect $112 million a year in tax revenue, based on what Lautenbaugh called a conservative estimate.
Petition circulators are collecting signatures. Although Lautenbaugh didn’t reveal the number of signatures gathered so far, he said the drive is ahead of schedule.
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