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Nebraska voters to decide fate of horse race track casinos

Published: Oct. 31, 2020 at 4:38 PM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - It is just three days away from the election and Nebraska voters will have a big decision to make when it comes to gambling.

Initiatives 429, 430, and 431 all go hand in hand to potentially allow casino gambling at horse race tracks. Those for it believe it could bring money back to Nebraska from other states, but those against it say the social cost is too high to allow it.

Initiative 429 would amend the state constitution to allow casino gambling at licensed horse tracks. Fonner Park in Grand Island is one of the six in the state that could benefit from the initiatives passing.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans that go over to the Iowa casinos alone that bet hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak said. “So there are Nebraskans that like to have a wager, they’re just going to Iowa and why can’t we embrace that?”

Initiative 430 would make it law to approve the gambling and create a gaming commission to regulate the casinos. Initiative 431 would impose an annual 20% tax. a 2.5% tax would go to the Compulsive Gamblers Fund, another 2.5% goes to the general fund. Seventy percent would go to the Property Tax Credit Fund and 25% would go to the countries where gambling is authorized at the race tracks.

Those against the initiatives believe even with the increased tax revenue, it is not a good thing for Nebraskans.

“We believe that these initiatives will lead to an increase in social costs that ruin lives, families, businesses, and communities,” Nate Grasz, Policy Director for Nebraska Family Alliance said. “But it’s not the gambling operators who pay for these harms, it’s the taxpayer.”

Nebraska Family Alliance believes the crime rate and addiction gambling would increase. Kotulak said it would actually help communities by creating jobs and saving the Nebraska horse racing industry.

“It was a once mighty industry that really has just crumbled because of all of the casino competition outside of Nebraska,” Kotulak said.

The initiatives would allow for any kind of chance gambling like slot machines and table games even on days there aren’t races. Similar initiatives were struck down in 2004 and Nebraska Family Alliance believes Nebraskans will do it again.

“We believe that all men and women deserve to have the best chance possible to build the best life for themselves and their family and casino gambling robs people of that opportunity,” Grasz said.

Kotulak said if they don’t pass he could see a shelf life on Nebraska horse racing. There has already been a significant decrease in race horse breeding in the state.

The election is Tuesday Nov. 3. If a voter has not turned in their early ballot yet it is suggested they drop it off directly to the ballot boxes since they will not get back in time by mail.

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