LINCOLN - The Winnebago Tribe wants to revive a closed horse track in northeast Nebraska if voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow betting on replayed races.
Ho-Chunk Inc., the tribe’s business entity, is one of seven groups behind a newly formed committee seeking to sway voter approval for historical horse racing terminals at Nebraska tracks. If the amendment withstands a pending constitutional challenge, it will appear on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
Nebraskans for Amendment 1 will have a booth at the upcoming Nebraska State Fair, and it plans to launch an advertising campaign urging a vote for the amendment, said Jordan McGrain, the group’s spokesman.
In 2012, Ho-Chunk purchased the former Atokad Downs after the track was closed by the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. If voters approve the historical horse racing amendment, the tribe would attempt to reopen the property as a horse track, said Lance Morgan, CEO of Ho-Chunk. The amendment specifies that the terminals can be operated only at licensed race tracks.
“This is not an effort to develop full-blown casino operations,” Morgan said Thursday. “We’re very happy with the prospect of developing the Atokad race track under current rules.”
The tribe currently operates the WinnaVegas Casino Resort on tribal land near Sloan, Iowa. Ho-Chunk was among the losing bidders to build and operate a new land-based casino in Sioux City, Iowa. Another developer was selected, and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Sioux City opened this month.
Other Amendment 1 committee members are the Nebraska Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, Hall County Livestock Association and track operators in Omaha, Lincoln and Hastings.
The ballot language asks voters to approve wagering on video segments of previously run horse races queued up on video terminals. The amendment also seeks to direct tax revenue from both live and replayed horse racing for education, property tax relief and assistance to compulsive gamblers.
Supporters of the amendment say profits from historical horse racing will support the live racing industry and the jobs it provides. Detractors say the video terminals work like slot machines and will speed wagering, and losses, for those with gambling addictions.
Gambling With the Good Life, which opposes expanded gambling, has challenged the ballot language before the Nebraska Supreme Court. An attorney for the group argues that the amendment invalidly requires voters to decide two questions with one vote. The Nebraska Constitution requires amendments to contain a single subject, the petition stated.
Secretary of State John Gale has approved the ballot language, saying it was constitutional on its face. Gale referred to a rule established by the Supreme Court that says multiple questions can be included in an amendment as long as they have a “natural and necessary” connection to each other.
McGrain said amendment supporters are confident that the Supreme Court will rule in their favor. He pointed out that a majority of state senators voted to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot.
“Gambling With the Good Life is trying to accomplish through the courts what they couldn’t accomplish in the Legislature,” he said.
The high court will hear oral arguments in the case on Wednesday.