Grand Island, NE -
The Nebraska Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday afternoon about the wording of an historic horse racing amendment set to be on the November ballot. The question boils down to this: is approval of historic racing while designating the use of the funds it would generate two separate, but related, issues, or just one? Nebraska law says an amendment such as this one, called Amendment 1, can only ask voters about a single subject.
The challenge could take the issue off general election ballots, but in the meantime, opponents and supporters of historic racing are making their cases with the public.
Advocates like Lynne Schuller, the legal counsel for the Horsemen's Benevolent Protection Association says letting people bet on replayed races is just like wagering on simulcast ones.
“You can find statistics on the horses, trainer standings, that type of thing before you do your wager, and then once the wager and the race are over then it tells you exactly when that race took place and who won the race, that kind of thing,” says Schuller. But gambling opponents say the system's fast pace makes it more like a slot machine, which aren't allowed in Nebraska. Ray Absher, a fifteen year board member for Gambling with the Good Life, the group leading the charge in the ballot language fight, says there's no time for a person to make an informed betting decision.
“We have looked and played -- I guess for lack of a better term -- the machines. You can attempt to bet on a horse race from the past for about thirty seconds,” says Absher. “From that point it just reverts to a slot machine, and you push the buttons or pull the handle and it spins around and you win or you lose.” Schuller and other supporters have an informational booth at the Nebraska State Fair, and say the funding historic racing could generate would go to education, property tax relief and gambling addiction help.
“Wyoming has introduced historic machines, they have a third of the population of Nebraska and they've already seen $60 million in revenue from these machines, so we think it has great potential in the state,” she says.
Absher says he doesn't think the measure will do much for property tax, and says Gambling with the Good Life and others have defeated similar ballot wording before.
“We've been opposed to that and remain opposed to that. We're not opposed to horse racing, we're just opposed to casino-style gambling and that's what this is all about,” he says.
An opinion from the Supreme Court is not expected for at least a week, and both groups say they'll wait to see what happens, then fight on until November if necessary.