Ricketts Says No Expansion of Gambling in Nebraska

NebraskaNebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has spoken out against a potential ballot proposal that would allow the state´s racetracks to host games of chance.

Subject to the proposal receiving sufficient public support, Nebraskans will be asked this November to vote on whether games of chance should be allowed in racetrack locations throughout the state. The proposal – The Nebraska Horse Track Gaming Regulations Initiative – would allow slots, table games and card games to be played under the supervision of a yet-to-be created Nebraska Gaming Commission.

Supporters of the proposals claim that Nevada needs regulated and taxed gambling in order to generate revenue for the state – revenue that is currently flowing across state borders into the casinos of neighboring Iowa and South Dakota. However, there is strong opposition to the proposed measures – not least from Governor Pete Ricketts, who voiced his opinion last weekend during an event hosted by the South Sioux City Area Chamber of Commerce.

$3 Paid for Each $1 Raised

At the event, Governor Ricketts repeated his claims that the expansion of gambling would be a financially negative move for the state. Ricketts used controversial research to support his claims – stating that, for each $1.00 of revenue raised, Nebraskan taxpayers would be paying $3.00 towards social welfare programming, the criminal justice system and infrastructure to support citizens who developed gambling problems.

Ricketts previously used this argument when designating last month as “National Problem Gambling Awareness Month in Nebraska”. Ricketts said that he wanted raise awareness of problem gambling as it has been estimated (by the Nebraska Gamblers Assistance Program) that as many as 28,000 Nebraskans may suffer a problem gambling disorder. Ricketts believes that the expansion of gambling would increase this number to 200,000.

Ricketts Accused of Scaremongering by Pro-Gambling Group

Ricketts figures have been attacked by Scott Lautenbaugh – spokesman for the pro-gambling group “Keep the Money in Nebraska” – who says that the Governor is just using scare tactics to defeat the proposal. Lautenbaugh argues that if casinos are the cause of social ills, why does Nebraska have higher bankruptcy and divorce rates that neighboring states. It seems like we already have these social ills here he said. We´re just missing out on all the revenue.

The pressure group has launched a substantial campaign to promote the ballot paper proposal, and has produced figures that show Nebraska´s problem gambling rates to be higher than Iowa, South Dakota and Nevada; while allegedly disproving the myth that there is a correlation between the accessibility of gambling and social ill such as bankruptcy, divorce, crime, and poverty.

Legislative Moves to Expand Gambling Continue to Fail

Pro-gambling advocates hope that the proposal makes it to the ballot paper, and then gets passed by a sizeable majority, to convince the legislature that affirmative action needs to be taken. Two previous attempts to reclassify Texas Hold´em and Draw Poker as games of skill have failed, and the sponsor of those bills – Nebraska Senator Tyson Larson – recently had to withdraw proposals relaxing the rules relating to pull tab games.

It has been estimated that nearly $500 million is spent by Nebraskan gamblers in Iowa´s casinos, and the revenue raised by taxing legal games of chance would be used to support the state´s property tax credit fund, public schools and the Games and Parks Commission. Unfortunately voters may be swayed by Governor Ricketts´ alleged scaremongering tactics, and a 2015 opinion by Nebraska Attorney general, Doug Petersen, that games containing an element of chance are illegal.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett