Since the grand opening of Massachusetts’s first legal casino earlier this year, gambling industry enthusiasts have been debating over which state would be the next to follow its lead. The number of states throughout the U.S. that have yet to legalize casino gambling in some form is dwindling, and news that broke earlier this week could provide an indication of the next potential domino to fall. Gaming groups in Nebraska have initiated a campaign to get brick-and-mortar casinos on the ballot next year in an effort to capitalize on the immense tax benefits offered by Las Vegas-style resorts. Leading the charge is a group called ‘Keep the Money in Nebraska’, which is backed by companies from the state’s horse racing industry.
Getting casinos on the ballot in Nebraska would be no small feat. A local newspaper reported that the last time voters had an opportunity to weigh in on the issue was nearly a decade ago. However, the group is estimating that the popularity of gambling options in neighboring Iowa could be enough to sway popular opinion in favor of casinos this time around. According to industry reports, as much as $400 million in wagered by visiting Nebraskans in Iowa casinos each year, meaning that between $60 million and $120 million in new tax revenue could potentially be introduced by an expanded gambling industry in Nebraska.
Nebraska’s constitution currently bans most games of chance, meaning that a constitutional amendment would be required before any casinos could be commissioned. Earlier this year, a lawmaker made headlines for his efforts to get the game of poker legalized in Nebraska, but his progress demonstrates the steep climb ahead of ‘Keep the Money in Nebraska’. Legislative Bill 619, a proposal to classify poker as a game of skill, hasn’t had any action since May.
Initially, the group’s efforts appear to be aimed at legalizing casino gaming at the state’s five horse racing tracks. The first step will be gathering the approximately 80,000 signatures needed to put the matter to vote. According to a study by the pro-casino group, 58 percent of the state’s residents support expanded gambling. As a result, its leaders are extremely confident in their ability to garner the necessary support.
Petitions submitted by ‘Keep the Money in Nebraska’ outline a plan to create a regulatory commission to cover casino gambling while imposing a tax of 20 percent on gross gambling revenue. Of that revenue, the group proposes that 75 percent goes to the state while 25 percent is used to benefit local government entities.
Efforts to collect signatures must be completed by July 2016, and the group has already hired a professional firm to handle the legwork. Estimates for the signature gathering efforts are in the ballpark of $1 million, with the entirety of that funding coming directly from the horse racing groups. If successful, expanded Nebraska gambling would compete directly with a tribal casino in Sloan, Iowa, as well as the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Sioux City.
With the popularity of casinos continuing to expand, Nebraska could be on the verge of throwing its hat in the ring. While there’s still a long way to go, the days of Massachusetts being the latest state to legalize casino gambling certainly appear to be numbered. Here at Silver Oak Casino we’ll keep an eye on the story for you.