Three initiatives that would authorize and tax gambling at racetracks in Nebraska will not make the November ballot

On August 25, 2020, Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen (R) announced that three initiatives that would authorize and tax gambling at racetracks in Nebraska would not make the ballot after three Nebraskans—Dr. Richard Loveless and Ann and Todd Zohner—submitted written objections regarding the ballot language of the initiatives. The objections were filed on August 7 after Keep the Money in Nebraska, the campaign behind the three initiatives, submitted over 465,000 signatures on July 2 for the three petitions. Secretary Evnen determined that all three petitions were not legally sufficient, thereby disqualifying them from the November ballot. Keep the Money in Nebraska plans to appeal the secretary of state’s decision.

• Constitutional Amendment to Allow Laws Authorizing Gaming at Racetracks Initiative: The initiative would have amended the Nebraska Constitution to allow the enactment of laws that authorize and tax gambling conducted by licensed gaming operators and held at licensed racetrack enclosures. Secretary Evnen argued that the language of the constitutional amendment would mislead voters. He said, “The Constitutional Initiative effectively puts forth dual proposals: (1) authorizing expanded gambling at tribal casinos and (2) authorizing expanded gambling at racetracks by authorized operators. But the first proposal is hidden from the voters and impossible to ascertain from the text of the proposal. Putting forth dual propositions in a single proposal violates the single-subject rule as it does not permit voters to express a clear preference on dual propositions.”
• Authorizing Gaming at Racetracks Initiative: The initiative would have allowed games of chance by authorized operators in licensed racetrack enclosures; established a Nebraska Gaming Commission to regulate games of chance; and exempted gaming at racetracks from rules and penalties that govern other forms of gambling. The objectors argued that the provisions of the initiative violated the single-subject rule, which requires ballot initiatives to address a single issue or subject, because the initiative concerned regulation and taxation. Secretary Evnen disagreed with the objectors’ reasoning but determined that the initiative violated the single-subject rule because the inclusion of tax breaks for licensees “[does] not have a natural and necessary connection” to the primary purpose of regulating gambling.

• Tax on Gaming at Racetracks Initiative: This initiative would have enacted a 20% tax on gambling revenue from games of chance operated at licensed racetracks and allocated 75% of the revenue from the tax to state funds for property tax relief and the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund and 25% to the county or local jurisdictions in which the racetracks are located. Secretary Evnen argued that “The property tax relief provisions contained in the Tax Initiative constitute logrolling and violate the single-subject rule.”

As of August 26, 2020, three statewide ballot measures were certified for the general election ballot in Nebraska. One is a citizen-initiated measure that would cap the interest rate on payday loans. Two are constitutional amendments referred to the ballot by the state legislature.

The full text of Secretary Evnen’s letter can be found here:

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