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Gambling initiatives will not be on November ballot

Gambling group takes issue to Nebraska Supreme Court
Published: Aug. 25, 2020 at 11:59 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Nebraska Secretary of State Robert B. Evnen announced on Tuesday that three initiatives focused on gambling in Nebraska will not appear on the November ballot.

But the group which organized the petitions is asking the state Supreme Court to review Evnen’s decision and order him to put the initiatives on the ballot.

According to a press release, Evnen determined that each of the three initiative petitions relating to Games of Chance “fail to comply with the single-subject rule in the Nebraska Constitution and are confusing, and therefore will not place the measures on the November 2020 General Election Ballot.”

Nebraska statute says the Secretary of State has to determine if constitutional and statutory requirements of the initiative petitions have been met prior to placing the initiatives on the ballot.

The initiative petitions include a proposed state constitutional amendment to legalize casino gambling at racetracks, along with two proposed laws that would regulate and tax casino gaming.

Evnen concluded that the three initiatives all had the same primary purpose, which is to permit currently prohibited games of chance to be conducted in Nebraska.

According to the release, the first initiative states that games of chance would be allowed only at racetracks. In the release, Evnen stated he found this to be materially misleading to voters because the effect of the initiative would be to allow any games of chance also to be conducted on tribal lands whether or not at a racetrack.

The third initiative contains provisions for property tax relief, but they would only come into effect if the first initiative expanding gaming was enacted. According to the release, “Evnen found this to be an effort at logrolling, which the Nebraska Supreme Court has repeatedly prohibited.”

“The Constitutional right to bring forward initiative petitions for a vote of the people is fundamental to our state governance and is to be zealously protected…Part of the protection of the right of initiative is to assure that such petitions are neither misleading nor manipulative,” the release reads.

The required number of signatures have been verified in support of all three initiatives. Based on his determination that the gambling initiatives are legally insufficient, however, Evnen announced that he will withhold all three of the Initiatives from the ballot unless the courts order otherwise.

Lincoln attorney Andre Barry said late Tuesday afternoon that the organization Keep the Money in Nebraska and one of its members Lynne McNally, filed a request with the Nebraska Supreme Court to review the decision. The request asks the court to order Evnen to put the gambling issues on the ballot. It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether the court would grant the review, but Barry said they’ve asked the court to rule quickly. The Secretary of State’s election calendar lists Sept 11 as the date by which the November ballot has to be finalized.

“This is an unprecedented action by the Secretary of State and we will ask that a court protect the constitutional rights of Nebraskans to be heard,” McNally said in a statement. “The complaints filed with the Secretary of State’s office are unfounded. Having been on the losing side of a similar argument in 2014, our team placed a great deal of emphasis on drafting ballot language that is clear, easily understandable, and strictly adheres to the State’s single-subject regulations. We are confident the court will agree, and Nebraskans will have the opportunity to vote FOR on all three measures this fall.”

More than 400,000 signatures were collected to get the initiatives on the ballot.

10/11 NOW spoke with supporters of the initiatives, who said they were shocked to hear the news.

“People are still gambling, they are just driving to Council Bluffs to do it. Why not just let them do it here,” said Bob Schneider.

“I don’t think it got a fair shake and I don’t think it ever does as far as I’m concerned, and I just don’t think we will survive,” said James Ross.

If the Nebraska Supreme Court rules, they can expedite the process. If it doesn’t, the motion will go to the Lancaster County District Court.

Copyright 2020 KOLN. All rights reserved.

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