Nebraska Supreme Court takes "historic" horse racing off ballot

Sept. 5, 2014, 5:35 a.m. ·

The amendment would have allowed instant racing terminals at Nebraska racetrack enclosures like this one in Lincoln (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Nebraska voters won’t decide on expanded gambling this November after all, as the Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday ordered a proposed constitutional amendment off the ballot.

The amendment, proposed by the Legislature, would have allowed betting at Nebraska racetracks on so-called “historic” horse races on video terminals.

The terminals can look like slot machines, and feature games that can be played every few seconds. But payouts are determined by the results of a previously run horserace.

Supporters said the measure would help Nebraska’s struggling live racing industry. They proposed new tax revenue would be spent on schools and property tax relief.

The court said that violated the state constitutional requirement for proposed amendments to contain only one subject. In its opinion, the court said some voters might want more money for schools and property tax relief, but not want a new form of gambling. But the court said voters would be presented with a “take-it-or-leave-it proposition,” which the constitution aims to prevent.

Anti-gambling leader Pat Loontjer celebrated the win. She suggested gambling interests would have been better off just trying to legalize slot machines at the tracks. “But they knew they couldn’t get the votes in the Legislature with just that, and they couldn’t get the votes of the people. So they had to add the lie of property tax relief” Loontjer said.

Jordan McGrain, spokesmen for the coalition supporting the amendment, saw things differently. “This was not some profitmaking scheme by gambling interests. This was an effort to preserve the tradition of horseracing in Nebraska, and modernize it in a way that would help tracks sustain themselves, and breeders to stay in their industry and save jobs and create economic development opportunities.”

Loontjer said the anti-gambling coalition had some help. “Thank you God, Thank you God -- another miracle for Nebraska!” she said. And in a written statement, Loontjer added “we know the greedy gambling interests will never stop trying to take Nebraska but they need to know that we will never quit either and we have God on our side, so beware.”

McGrain called that ridiculous. “To paint it as simplistically as that and to use that kind of language I think is inappropriate,” he said, “But this is politics and nothing surprises me anymore.”