Election - 10.08.2020

Scratch tickets, powerball and Keno are currently available in Nebraska. Measures on the Nov. 3 ballot will determine if other forms of gambling will be legalized in the state.

In Nebraska, the 2020 general election ballot will include four Initiatives Measures proposed by petition. The state’s voters will decide on Nov. 3 which of these items will be passed into law, and which will not. The wording of these measures on the ballot can be a little confusing, so in an effort to keep our readers informed here is a closer look at each of those issues and what they mean.

Initiative Measure 428 was proposed by petition, and if passed will reduce the amount that delayed deposit services licensees, also known as payday lenders, can charge to a maximum annual percentage rate of 36%; prohibit payday lenders from evading this rate cap; and deem void and uncollectable any delayed deposit transaction made in violation of this rate cap.

Now, here’s what that means in layman’s terms. Payday lenders currently charge Nebraskans interest rates of more than 400% annually. Supporters of this initiative contend that Measure 428 would prevent payday lenders from charging interest rates higher than 36% annually. Those pushing for this initiative say that with the current economic and health crises created by the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to stop lenders from taking advantage of people by charging triple-digit interest rates. The Department of Defense has already imposed a 36% rate cap for active-duty military. According to the voices of supporters, this measure would ensure that Nebraska’s 150,000 veterans and all families have that same reasonable protection.

A vote For Initiative Measure 428 will amend the state statutes to initiate this proposed interest rate cap. Meanwhile, a vote Against the measure will not amend the statutes - and there are plenty of Nebraskans opposed to the initiative.

The Delayed Deposit Services Industry was created by the Legislature, and opponents of the measure say it allows for regulated access to short-term credit by Nebraskans of all income levels. Those funds are often used to pay unexpected medical bills, car repair, utilities etc. These businesses do not charge interest, but rather state law requires a fee of $15 per $100 transaction, which is lower than overdraft fees, utility reconnection fees, and bounced check fees. Opponents contend that this measure would reduce the fee to $1.38 per $100, forcing licensed Nebraska businesses to close and eliminating access to regulated small dollar loans. In states where this law was passed, say opponents, complaints against unregulated internet lenders soared, just as the cost of credit and personal hardship increased.

Initiative Measure 429 was also proposed by petition, and if approved will amend the Nebraska Constitution to state that laws may be enacted to provide for the authorization, regulation, and taxation of all forms of games of chance to be conducted by licensees within licensed racetrack enclosures in Nebraska. In other words, a vote for this measure is a vote for legalized casino gaming at  licensed horse racing tracks in the state. More than 70% of Nebraskans live within 60 miles of an out-of-state casino, say supporters of this measure, and Nebraskans currently spend nearly $400 million at those casinos each year. They contend that in-state gaming will provide an opportunity to keep that money in Nebraska and positively impact the state’s economy by more than $320 million each year.

Those in support of 429 also say the initiative will create more than 4,600 jobs statewide, including many in rural areas to support the resulting expansion of the horse racing industry. This initiative will not automatically allow for the expansion of Indian casinos on tribal lands as those are regulated on a federal level, and an agreement would also have to be reached with the governor.

Meanwhile, a vote Against Measure 429 would not make the change to the Nebraska Constitution that opponents to the measure say would be detrimental to our state. This initiative, along with existing federal law, opponents contend, will legalize casino gambling of all types not only at racetracks but also on all tribal lands throughout Nebraska. Nebraskans and their elected officials will have no regulatory control or power of taxation over these Indian casinos. There will be no local control over this gambling. All games of chance will be legal, including online slot machines and table games from laptops and cellphones anywhere in Nebraska, 24 hours a day, with little to no regulatory oversight or safeguards, opponents argue.

The gaming issue is also the subject of Initiative Measure 430, which would enact a statute that allows games of chance to be conducted by authorized gaming operators within licensed racetrack enclosures in Nebraska; establishes a Nebraska Gaming Commission to license and regulate such gaming; and amends and repeals existing sections of law to harmonize provisions consistent with the enactment of such statute. Initiative 430, supporters contend, will create a state regulatory body to govern and license Nebraska casinos. The organization will be responsible for ensuring the fair and legal gaming practices at each location, and will also be responsible for ensuring reporting from each gaming facility is accurate and complies with all state laws. The initiative will also require that casinos are responsible for the funding of the regulatory expenses to prevent Nebraska taxpayers from taking on additional expenses.

On the other hand, opponents say Initiative 430 provides for special interest legislation and bypasses the state legislature. This initiative, opponents contend, amends existing state law to give tax breaks to racetracks that conduct gaming operations by exempting them from sales and use tax. It also amends other state laws to exempt gaming at racetracks from other forms of taxes.

Opponents say the state legislature should determine which and how many racetracks should be allowed to operate casinos, at what tax rate, and how that revenue should be spent - not special interest groups. A vote Against 430 will prevent the statute from being enacted.

Initiative Measure 431 will come into play only if both it and Measure 430 are passed, as 431 will be used to determine the disbursement of gaming funds. A vote For Measure 431 will enact a statute which imposes a 20% annual tax on gross gaming revenue from games of chance operated at licensed racetrack locations; distributes 75% of such gaming tax revenues to the State for credit of 2.5% to both the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund and General Fund, and 70% to the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund; and distributes 25% of such gaming tax revenues to the county where the licensed racetrack is located, or, if the racetrack is located partially within a city or village, distributes this percentage evenly between the county and city or village.

That’s a lot of numbers and percentages to try to keep straight! But supporters say that is the point. Initiative 431 will establish a rigid tax structure for casino revenue, supporters contend, ensuring more than $65 million of new tax revenue dollars are available for Nebraskans. The initiative guarantees 70% of casino tax revenue will be reserved for property tax relief, contributing more than $40 million dollars to the fund each year. Counties and cities home to casinos will share 20% of the tax revenue. The state’s general fund will receive 2.5% of the tax revenue, as will the Compulsive Gambler’s Assistance Fund. The resulting $1.625 million dollars to the fund will more than double the Nebraska Commission on Problem Gambling’s annual budget and per capita will make them the best funded organization of its type in the nation, supporters say.

But those opposed to the measure disagree sharply with that assessment. Initiative 431, they contend, presents itself as a way to generate tax revenue and provide property tax relief; however, it does not mention that because of existing federal law, it will legalize gambling of all types not only at racetracks but also on tribal lands throughout Nebraska. Opponents argue that casinos on tribal lands will not pay taxes and will take revenue away from any potential tax relief. Nebraskans and their elected officials will have no regulatory control or power of taxation over these Indian casinos, and therefore will not receive the economic benefits of such casinos. As with measure 430, opponents of this initiative contend that the legislature should determine what a fair tax is and how tax revenue is spent - not special interest groups.

Hopefully these detailed explanations of each of the proposed initiative measures on the Nov. 3 ballot will help you as a voter make a more informed decision about what you want for our state. Dawson County Clerk Karla Zlotkovsky said her office has already sent out more than 2,600 early ballots. She wants to remind the public that the last day to register at DMV on-line to vote in the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 16.

Your opinion matters, but the only way you can have it count is to vote.

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.537.9498