Political leaders, gambling advocates spar over ballot initiative
Gambling advocates say casinos will provide tax revenue, opponents argue about social cost.
Nebraska voters will decide the future of casino gambling in the state this fall.
The three gambling ballot initiatives are Initiative 429, 430, and 431. Initiative 429 legalizes casino gaming, Initiative 430 creates a commission to regulate casino gaming, and Initiative 431 allows gambling revenue to be taxed.
Opponents of the ballot initiative, including Governor Pete Ricketts, say that the legalization of casino gambling would be a mistake.
“Gambling is something that has a very dire impact on communities,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts mentions gambling addiction, domestic abuse, and embezzlement as factors that make the risk of legalizing gambling greater than the reward.
Drew Niehaus disagrees. Niehaus is the PR director for Keep The Money in Nebraska, a political action committee that advocates the legalization of casino gambling in Nebraska. He is tired of seeing neighboring states benefit from the legalization of gambling.
“If you look at how much money has lost out on over the last 25 years, it’s close to 9 billion dollars,” Niehaus said. “That’s a source of tax revenue that we haven’t had during that time that we’ve been exporting to other states like Iowa.”
Niehaus says that getting tax revenue from gambling back into the state could go a long way towards providing property tax relief, contributed to the Nebraska General Fund, as well as Problem Gambler’s Assistance Fund. Ricketts remains unconvinced.
“The promises with the casinos are always overblown with regard to what they are actually going to deliver,” Ricketts said. “Gambling is something that has a very dire social impact on communities.”
This echoes the sentiments of others opposed to the legalization of gambling, who feel that it would prove to be costly to Nebraskans.
“If we change the Constitution, Nebraska will never be the same,” said Pat Loontjer, the executive director of Gambling with the Good Life.
Legendary Nebraska head football coach Tom Osborne also voiced his concerns.
“Nebraska always ranks high in quality of living and we feel that these initiatives will certainly damage that quality of living,” Osborne said.
Niehaus rejects the notion that legalized gambling will do more harm than good.
“It’s going to bring 4,600 jobs and could provide more than $45 million a year in property tax relief,” Niehaus said. “To say that this isn’t going to help Nebraskans, it’s just outright wrong.”
The battle between financial opportunity and social cost will be fascinating to watch in the coming weeks.