“We’re talking about Nebraska entities investing in Nebraska so the jobs, the taxes, and the profits all stay in Nebraska,” said Lance Morgan, President and CEO of Ho-Chunk, Inc., in a video posted by Keep the Money in Nebraska, a campaign supporting the gaming initiatives in the state.
Last week, the Nebraska Supreme Court granted a major victory to efforts that would ultimately allow casino gaming at horse racing tracks in the state and create laws to regulate and tax the gaming industry. Ho-Chunk, Inc., the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska’s economic development corporation, funded efforts to collect 475,000 signatures and in so doing, put the question before voters in November’s general election.
Under the ruling, the Court rejected arguments made by Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen, who claimed that the initiatives did not comply with rules under the state’s constitution and thus were invalid.
In 2013, Ho-Chunk, Inc. purchased Atokad Downs, a horse racing facility in Sioux City, Nebraska that was originally built in 1956 with a grandstand capacity of 2,600 people and enough barns to accommodate nearly 500 horses. After purchasing the facility, Ho-Chunk, Inc. built a new track and now plans to add a casino and events center if the initiatives pass.
“Every state who touches Nebraska has some form of casino gambling, and so every state considers Nebraska a target demographic for their business,” said Lance Morgan, President and CEO of Ho-Chunk, Inc., in a video posted by Keep the Money in Nebraska, a campaign supporting the gaming initiatives. “If we can just keep some of that money home, some of those taxes home, and some of those jobs and economic activity here, we’re going to improve.”
“Since the Council Bluffs casinos have opened, they’ve brought in $11 billion in revenue—billion—and about $9 billion of that has come right from Nebraska,” Morgan continued. “To be honest, that makes me a little bit angry; I think that it’s obvious to everybody involved that they’re there to exploit Nebraska, to take money from Nebraska, to take jobs from Nebraska. And so I think it’s crystal clear that if you could move those gaming operations into Nebraska, we would get the tax dollars, we would get the jobs, and we would get the economic activities.”
Morgan added that another key advantage of opening gaming operations in Nebraska under the proposed initiatives would be that revenues would not be sent to national and international conglomerates like those who own and operate many of the gaming operations in surrounding states.
“We’re talking about Nebraska entities investing in Nebraska so the jobs, the taxes, and the profits all stay in Nebraska,” Morgan said. “We keep all the money in Nebraska and that’s the big difference between us and what you’re seeing in other states.”
According to Keep the Money in Nebraska, the initiatives if passed would bring in more than $65 million per year in gambling taxes to help defray property taxes, bolster local government budgets, and provide counseling to problem gamblers. Furthermore, casinos in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which has the largest concentration of Iowa’s gaming positions, have earned more than $11.1 billion over the last 23 years, with roughly 80 percent of it coming from Nebraskans.
Keep the Money in Nebraska’s economic impact study also found that once they are up and running, racetrack casinos in Nebraska will be associated with more than 4,600 jobs and $320 million of the gross state product. They would contribute $40.5 million in state and local government revenues in addition to $65 million in gambling taxes.
While those 4,600 jobs would be directly created by the gaming enterprises, Morgan sees widespread benefits.
“There are also going to be a lot of indirect jobs that are going to be created,” he said, including “the people who work with the gaming operations, the vendors, the horse trainers, the horse breeders, the farmers who support these operations—there’s going to be an economic ripple effect throughout the entire state.”
“In the end, this is about choice,” Morgan said. “This isn’t about making anybody do anything. The people who have prevented and stopped casino gaming over the last 25 years here in Nebraska have made that choice for Nebraskans, and I think we’re ready to make that choice for ourselves.”