LINCOLN — Ho-Chunk Inc. and the Nebraska Horsemen are moving forward with a petition drive aimed at allowing casino gambling at state-licensed horse tracks.

Working together under the Keep the Money in Nebraska campaign committee, the two organizations announced Thursday that they had filed proposed petition language with the Secretary of State’s Office.

They said they hope to put a state constitutional amendment to legalize expanded gambling, along with two proposed laws to regulate casino gambling, before voters in November 2020.

“Nebraskans’ money is funding other states’ priorities,” said Lance Morgan, president and CEO of Ho-Chunk, the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe. “There’s a lot of good this money can do right here in Nebraska.”

He said Nebraskans spend about $500 million annually gambling at casinos in Iowa and other nearby states.

Expanding gambling in Nebraska would generate an estimated $50 million in new tax revenue to help fund property tax relief, K-12 public education and the Nebraska Gamblers Assistance Fund, Morgan said.

Ho-Chunk is working with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent Protection Association on the effort. The association represents Thoroughbred owners and trainers.

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“I am very pleased that the Nebraska Horsemen are continuing their partnership with Ho-Chunk Inc. and Nebraska’s First People,” said Barry Lake, president of the horsemen’s group. “This union of past and present ensures a bright future for horse racing and will stem the flow of Nebraska dollars to neighboring states.”

The two organizations worked together on a 2016 petition drive, which fell short of collecting the required number of signatures to make the ballot.

The sponsors expressed optimism about the new effort, saying simpler ballot language, fewer questions and a new signature collection group should help their cause.

In contrast, Nate Grasz of the Nebraska Family Alliance said he expects that Nebraskans will reject the idea of allowing casinos in the state, as they have previously.

“We will oppose it,” he said. “We believe casinos are bad for Nebraska businesses and bad for Nebraska families.”

Ho-Chunk and the horsemen plan to circulate three petitions. One proposes a constitutional amendment allowing “all forms of games of chance” at state-licensed racetracks.

The second proposes a state law to regulate expanded gambling at racetracks.

It defines games of chance to include slot machines, table games, counter games and card games.

The third proposes a law to collect tax on casino revenue, with 70% of the proceeds being dedicated to property tax relief.

Secretary of State Bob Evnen said the proposed petitions were sent to the Revisor of Statutes for review, as required by state law.

The sponsors can make changes before submitting the final language and starting to collect signatures.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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