Nebraskans speak for, against gambling initiative at state capitol

Published: Oct. 5, 2020 at 3:40 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Organizers say once the constitution is changed to allow gambling in Nebraska -- the state will never be the same.

Opponents of legalized gambling rallied at the state capitol to get their message across to voters.

“Because we’re going to open up a can of worms, we’re never going to be able to close again,” said Pat Loonjer of Gambling with the Good Life.

The organization has fought against the legalization of gambling in Nebraska for 25 years. Loonjer said the pro-gambling group Keep the Money in Nebraska has put out advertisements that are not truthful.

“The taxpayers are going to have to pay for the increase in crime, embezzlement, divorce, abuse -- all the ramifications that the gambling industry could care less and they’re not putting a penny towards,” Loonjer said.

Mike Newlin, CEO and general manager of Omaha Exposition and Racing, said the casinos would be located at the state’s six horserace tracks.

“It’s the same old story they tell to scare people into thinking this is bad, try to scare our senior citizens, try to scare the ultra-conservatives in the state to say this is bad for Nebraska -- but common sense will prevail,” Newlin said.

Newlin says expanded gambling would provide property tax relief and provide funds for communities where the tracks are located, and added gambling already exists in Nebraska.

“Horseracing was legalized in 1935 in the State of Nebraska. We were one of the first states in the country to legalize horse racing. We literally have keno on just about every street corner. We’ve had the lottery for a while,” Newlin said.

But Loonjer says her group has fought off petitions and ballot initiatives before and that history is on their side.

“Twice we’ve been on the ballot, 25-to-1 that time, we’re probably going to be 50-to-1 this time but we won and we won by 65 percent. So if we can get the truth out and people realize how dangerous it is to change the constitution,” Loonjer said.

Newlin says this time things are different. More than 475,000 Nebraskans signed petitions to put legalized gambling on the ballot. He’s hoping Nebraska voters want to keep Nebraska gambling dollars at home.

“An estimated $500 million a year is big bet by Nebraska residents in the states that surround us. Every state that touches us has casino gambling,” Newlin said.

Loonjer knows this time preventing the spinning wheels from rolling into Nebraska will be an uphill climb.

“We know we’re going to be vastly outspent but we’ve won before. The culture has changed in 15 years on how the people feel -- we’re doing the best we can.”

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