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Nebraska Gambling Petitions Failed to Reach Signature Threshold

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All three gambling petitions aimed a letting Nebraskans decide whether to legalize casino gambling at the state’s racetracks didn’t quite make it.

Secretary of State John Gale announced Tuesday that the two petitions proposing law to implement the casino plan would not make the November Ballot.

He said each failed to get enough valid signatures to go before voters.

Earlier this month, Gale reported that the third gambling petition, which proposed a constitutional amendment authorizing expanded gambling, also had fallen short of the mark.

All three suffered from an abnormal error rate in collecting signatures, including duplicate signatures and signatures from people who weren’t registered voters or who signed petitions for a county in which they were unregistered.

The two petitions proposing laws fell short of the required signature threshold even before the invalid signatures were thrown out, Gale said.

Each needed 80,032 valid signatures, or 7% of the number of registered voters as of July 7, the petition deadline.

Keep the Money in Nebraska, the pro-gambling group that sponsored the petitions, reported that it had collected about 90,000 on each of those petitions.

However, Gale said the petition to regulate casinos at racetracks actually had 73,617 signatures. Of those, 51,993 signatures turned out to be valid.

He said the petition spelling out how casino tax revenues would be divided has 78,157 signatures. Only 54,854 signatures were valid.

The petition for a constitutional amendment showed similar results.

While Keep the Money in Nebraska said it handed in about 130,000 signatures, Gale said the petition actually had 119,666 total signatures. County election officials discarded more than 41,000 invalid signatures.

Scott Lautenbaugh, a spokesman for the pro-gambling group, said he couldn’t account for the discrepancy between the number of signatures that the group reported filing and the number that Gale’s office counted.

He acknowledge that the group estimated the number of signatures when filing paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office because of the rush to get the last signatures collected and turned in by the deadline.

But Lautenbaugh said the differences were greater than the group had anticipated. He said he did not fault the company hired to collect the petition signatures.

He also noted that the group had asked Gale to stop checking signatures on the two petitions for laws once it was clear that the proposed constitutional amendment had failed.

Without a constitutional change, the proposed laws could not have been implemented, even if they had made the ballot and won voter approval.

Lautenbaugh said the effort was hampered by having three separate petitions, which increased the complexity and time required for collecting signatures.

The Nebraska Constitution limits initiative petitions to a single subject, and constitutional amendments must be separate from proposed laws.

Doing a petition for a constitutional amendment along might have simplified the gathering of signatures, however, other difficulties could have been created, he said.

The last time that Nebraskans voted on expanded gambling was in 2006, when voters rejected a proposal to allow video keno devices.

In 2004 voters defeated two measures that would have legalized casinos in the state, one proposed by the Legislature and one put on the ballot by petition.