Arkansas Signature Gatherers Race Against Time; Nebraska There

With the wording of their proposed constitutional amendment only recently approved, Arkansas Wins has less than a month to gather the 85,000 signatures required to place the measure on the November ballot. Meanwhile, a petition drive to legalize racinos in Nebraska already has surpassed its signature requirements.

The pro-gambling group Arkansas Wins in 2016 has until July 7 to collect about 85,000 signatures required to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot allowing casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties. The state attorney general only recently approved the amendment’s wording. Arkansas Wins spokesman Robert Coon said, “We’ve certainly had a few thousand over the last two, two and a half days. I think we’re on track. We’re making a good dent in it on the front end and we hope to pick up from there.”

Coon said voters need to agree that Arkansas must stop the flow of gambling money to other states. “They’ve been a little frustrated with just seeing our dollars go out of state. So one of the things they want to focus on is how you do return those dollars, those jobs, and tourism back to Arkansas, he said.

No opposition groups have formed yet, but a spokesperson for the Family Council said its members will oppose the constitutional amendment if it reaches the ballot. A spokesman for Southland Gaming said the venue will not actively oppose the proposal. “It’s up to the voters,” he stated.

Meanwhile in Nebraska, the pro-casino group Keep the Money in Nebraska has raised more than $1.1 million and has gathered enough signatures to place on the November ballot three casino gambling proposals. Spokesman Scott Lautenbaugh said, “We’re supremely confident we’ll gather a sufficient number of signatures, but we’re going to keep running as if we’re behind.” He added people’s response to the petition “has been more positive than we ever dared to hope. People understand our message and they’re tired of the status quo.”

One constitutional amendment would allow games of chance at licensed racetracks, and two others would change state law to specify casinos’ locations, regulations and tax revenue distribution. Keep the Money in Nebraska has proposed a 20 percent tax on each casino’s gross revenue, with three-quarters going to the state and one quarter to the local casino host government.

The group also faces a July 7 deadline to gather enough valid signatures, which are required from 10 percent of the state’s registered voters, or about 113,900 people; each of the proposed law changes require 7 percent of voters, or about 79,700 signatures. Also, the group must collect signatures from at least 5 percent of registered voters in a minimum of 38 counties.

Most of the money $1 million-plus Keep the Money in Nebraska has raised has come from Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska’s economic development corporation. The tribe owns and operates WinnaVegas Casino Resort in Sloan, Iowa.

Ho-Chunk has said it wants to reopen Atokad Downs in South Sioux City, which closed in 2012, as a racino. President and Chief Executive Officer Lance Morgan said the racino would help the tribe better compete against the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which opened in Sioux City, Iowa in 2014, plus create jobs and provide economic benefits in Nebraska.

Lautenbaugh said casino gambling would generate $100 million a year in tax revenue for local and state governments, which could help, pay for bridges, roads, schools and property tax reductions. In 2013 Iowa casinos generated nearly $327 million in gross gaming revenue, according to Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission figures.

The anti-casino group Gambling with the Good Life is working to build a coalition of churches, business leaders and prominent citizens to oppose the casino measures. Executive Director Pat Loontjer said, “Basically, every church in Nebraska will get the word out to vote no.”

Loontjer said she plans to travel around Nebraska to speak at town hall events and give interviews to news media. She added the group expects to be outspent and as of May 27 had raised $12,650. The Reverend Al Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Alliance, said, “We don’t have the large amounts of money that some of the gambling proponents have, but we do have good information to give to Nebraskans.”

Keno, horse racing and a lottery are legal in Nebraska, but not video gambling machines.