Gov. Pete Ricketts renewed his objections on Friday to expanded gambling in Nebraska, warning a proposed ballot measure to legalize casinos would increases the social costs of the state.
“Gambling is bad for economic development. For every dollar you collect in tax revenues, you are spending three in social services, there is it child abuse,spousal abuse, embezzlement. So gambling is not an economic driver for he state,” Ricketts said.
The first-term Republican governor spoke during a stop in South Sioux City, where Ho-Chunk Inc. plans to build a short horse track, sports bar and simulcast wagering and events center at the site of the former Atokad Downs.
Ho-Chunk, the economic development corporation for the Winnebago Tribe, also has contributed more than $700,000 to Keep the Money in Nebraska, a group circulating petitions for a constitutional amendment that would legalize casinos at the state’s horse tracks.
The pro-gambling proponents hope to place the ballot measure before voters in November. Ricketts has lent his support to an anti-gambling group fighting to defeat the measure.
Last month, Ho-Chunk’s director of development, Alexcia Boggs, said the South Sioux City track will be built regardless of what happens with the casino ballot issue.
Rickets, an Omaha businessman who won his first term as Nebraska governor in 2014, said studies of medium-sized counties in neighboring Iowa with casinos have show that dollars flowing to businesses and coming to the state in sales taxes drop when compared to counties without gambling.
While Ricketts said he would continue to speak publicly against an expansion of gambling in Nebraska, the governor said “there hasn’t been any discussion” on whether he would get on board with special interest groups who are lobbying to oppose the referendum.
Ricketts spoke Friday at an even hosted by the South Sioux City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Ron Hartnett, of Dakota City, said he disagrees with the governor’s stance on expanded gambling. Hartnett said the three casinos in Council Bluffs, Iowa and at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Sioux City draw scores of patrons from Nebraska, so it would be better to have their gambling money turned into revenue at casinos in the Cornhusker state.
Sioux City has got a huge shot in the arm. It would be beneficial for jobs (in Nebraska),” Hartnett said of the Ho-Chunk project.
Ho-Chunk’s plans call for the construction of a new track with bleachers near the finish line and 6,000-square-foot building with a full kitchen and bar capable of accommodating 200 to 250 people.
The track, which would have one live racing date per year, is waiting for approval of its license from the state Racing Commission. Ho-Chunk plans to construct the track this summer and run a race sometime in September.
Construction of the event center, including the bar and restaurant, would take a year to complete and will be ongoing at the time of the first race.