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SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- A Winnebago tribal corporation plans to double down on its bet that Nebraska voters largely support casino gambling in their state.

Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe, recently announced plans to team up with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association to give voters the chance to decide whether their state should allow casino gambling, and possibly sports betting, at the state’s horse racetracks.

The two organizations plan to launch a petition drive next year that would seek to put the issue on the ballot in 2020.

If voters approved it, the measure would pave the way for casino gambling at racetracks in South Sioux City, Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Columbus and potentially Hastings. HCI attempted a similar petition drive in 2015-16 that ended with Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale declaring many signatures invalid and leaving the effort 40,000 signatures short.

In 2016, Ho-Chunk acquired the former Atokad Downs in South Sioux City with an eye as reopening it as a casino and events center. Ho-Chunk reopened it as Atokad Park. At least one live horse race has been run every year to comply with a state requirement for Nebraska tracks that also offer simulcasting racing.

Lance Morgan, a Winnebago tribal citizen and CEO of Ho-Chunk, which also owns Indianz.Com, said the petition drive likely would cost millions of dollars and he has begun seeking partners who would help finance the effort.

“We’ve had several calls from people who are interested in partnering,” he said.

Morgan said HCI and the horsemen plan to finalize language for the petition this winter and begin collecting signatures next year.

HCI and the horsemen’s association estimate that Nebraska loses $500 million a year in revenue spent by state residents at casinos in Iowa and other surrounding states.

One of the challenges that faced the Winnebago company’s 2015-16 petition initiative was the complicated language on the petition, Morgan said. The company had to circulate three petitions, including one to change the state constitution to allow casino gambling, a second to establish a casino regulatory agency and a third to decide how profits would be spent.

“That complicated it quite a bit in terms of the signature gathering,” Morgan said.

He said he hopes next year’s petition drive might include simpler language and fewer questions.

“We’ve got to make sure we get it exactly right,” he said.

Indianz.com reports the two organizations are considering whether to include sports betting on the petition, an issue that likely would require more complicated language, Morgan said. He said sports betting likely would constitute a much less profitable enterprise than casino gambling.

“I’m all for sports betting, but in the scheme of things it’s a niche in comparison to the casino style gambling,” he said.

Last year, Ho-Chunk Inc. sued the consultant it hired to collect signatures for the 2015-16 petition drive, claiming Northstar Campaign Systems knowingly inflated the number of signatures it had collected. Morgan said that lawsuit is still being litigated.

He said the two organizations leading the upcoming petition drive plan to be more careful about who they hire to collect signatures.

“We’re going to treat it like it’s a straight-up corporate operation and hire some people whose sole job it is to make this happen,” he said.

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