On Nov. 3, Nebraska will make an important decision about whether to invite Indian casino gambling in our communities. Over the years, the people of our state have repeatedly rejected the false promise of new revenues made by the interests pushing for casinos in the Good Life. Once again, we would be wise to keep casinos out of Nebraska. Here’s why Susanne and I will be voting against Initiatives 429, 430, and 431.
First, gambling has a real human cost, and inviting casinos into our communities will only hurt more families. For every $1 a community gains from casino gambling, it pays $3 in social costs. These costs go toward regulating the casino industry and dealing with the many negative side effects of problem gambling, such as child abuse, spousal abuse, crime, family breakdown, sex trafficking and bankruptcy.
This isn’t just a statistic. We can already see devastating impact of Iowa casinos on the lives of real Nebraskans. In 2012 a Nebraska state senator pleaded guilty to illegally spending campaign funds at casinos in Kansas. In 2016 a Lincoln pharmacist was sentenced to nine years in prison after defrauding Nebraska’s Medicaid program of $14.4 million. He squandered the money playing craps and blackjack at casinos in Council Bluffs. Also in 2016, a bookkeeper at an Omaha travel agency was arrested for stealing $1.2 million from her employer to cover gambling losses incurred at Iowa casinos.
Second, promises of new revenues generated by gambling have turned out to be false campaign promises in other states. Casino supporters in Massachusetts used the same ploy to convince their state to legalize casinos in 2011. Yet in November 2019, the Boston Globe reported that casino revenues in Massachusetts have repeatedly fallen far short of projections: “During the years of debate over whether to allow casinos in Massachusetts, proponents invariably returned to this point: The state was losing out on a revenue jackpot enjoyed by Connecticut and other states where gambling was legal. But with the Massachusetts gaming industry up and running at three sites, the bonanza casino operators promised when they applied for licenses here has yet to materialize.”
The article went on to add that “the early shortfalls contrast sharply with the upbeat sales pitches casino companies made when they were seeking public support and regulatory approval.” The Globe’s story highlighted the national director of Stop Predatory Gambling, Les Bernal, who cautioned against the exaggerated revenue estimates of casino backers. “They deliberately oversell how much revenue they’re going to bring into the state, because there’s no merit to the business.”
Finally, the promise of economic opportunity is an illusion, and will be offset by additional poverty and homelessness. In fact, the Open Door Mission in Omaha has seen firsthand the poverty caused by compulsive gambling. Before casinos came to Council Bluffs, only about 9% of the homeless people Open Door serves came to them due to gambling. After the casinos, about 36% those served say their homelessness is due to gambling addiction.
Furthermore, a study in the American Indian Law Journal examined casinos operated by over 20 Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest between 2000 and 2010. Originally touted as a solution to poverty, these casinos actually raised the mean poverty rate from 25% to 29%. For example, the Siletz tribe in Oregon saw its poverty rate balloon from 21% to 38% after a local casino opened.
For these reasons and more, there’s been bipartisan opposition to gambling in Nebraska over the decades. From Warren Buffett and former Gov. Bob Kerrey to Coach Osborne and former Gov. Kay Orr, there is broad agreement that casino gambling would hurt our communities and the people who live in them. In the coming days as you consider the issue, Susanne and I urge you to thoughtfully join us in voting against Initiatives 429, 430 and 431.
Pete Ricketts is governor of Nebraska.