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Editorial: Don't distort the debate over Nebraska casino legalization

Editorial: Don't distort the debate over Nebraska casino legalization

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If passed by voters, Initiative 429 would amend the Nebraska Constitution to allow casino gambling at Nebraska’s licensed horse tracks. Initiative 430 would provide for oversight and regulation of the casinos. Initiative 431 would tax the casinos and direct most of the revenue to property tax relief.

Nebraskans have long debated gambling issues, and that’s the case now with casino legalization on the November ballot via Initiatives 429, 430 and 431. The debate needs to focus on the central issues and the facts, not on distorted claims or inappropriate appeals.

Any Nebraskan is fully entitled to oppose casinos if they choose, but a current effort, backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, to frame the ballot issues as being about unlimited tribal gaming is unwarranted fearmongering.

It’s a wild exaggeration to claim that if the ballot measures pass, casinos will be popping up en masse all across the state. And a recent mailer was so focused on breathlessly emphasizing Native American casinos that Warren Buffett, a casino opponent quoted in the material, expressed alarm. The mailer’s rhetoric, Buffett said, amounted to a “dog whistle” that played to racial prejudices.

Buffett is right to be upset. The mailer’s approach distorts the question before voters in a way that disrespects Nebraska’s native residents. Our state, after all, takes its name from an elegant native word.

If passed by voters, Initiative 429 would amend the Nebraska Constitution to allow casino gambling at Nebraska’s licensed horse tracks. Initiative 430 would provide for oversight and regulation of the casinos. Initiative 431 would tax the casinos and direct most of the revenue to property tax relief.

In our view, the proposals deserve voter approval, so Nebraska can begin to get a share of the revenue that Nebraskans currently contribute to Iowa casinos.

As is well known, federal law allows tribes to operate casino-type games in states where casino gambling is legal for others. But to claim that tribes then have carte blanche to automatically begin setting up casinos all over the state doesn’t square with the legal reality.

The approval process to create a tribal casino is complex, and a state compact is required in all cases. These complications and requirements are significant, which is why when we asked Kathryn Rand, dean of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota, if the ballot proposals here could lead to widespread tribal gaming across the state, she replied, “I don’t see how.”

Nebraska is in the midst of a new round of debate over casinos, and it’s fine for people to differ on the issue. But let’s keep the debate on the high road, focusing on policy and not on distortions.

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