LINCOLN — Jenise Brown blames a $4 million loss suffered by her family's Omaha business on the Iowa casino where the company's former accountant gambled.
Brown was one of six people to testify Monday against a legislative resolution that would ask voters to legalize casino gambling in Nebraska. Two spoke in support of Legislative Resolution 416CA, including the measure's introducer, State Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber.
“This would take it to a vote of the people,” Karpisek said. “I don't know what all the uproar is about letting them vote.”
During a hearing before the General Affairs Committee, the resolution drew the familiar opponents. But committee members also heard the personal story of Brown, who told them how misplaced trust and an addiction to slot machines led to an astounding case of theft.
Brown and her husband, Monte, own Colombo Candy & Tobacco of Omaha. Between 2010 and 2012, their accountant stole $4 million and spent most or all of it gambling at a Council Bluffs casino, Brown said.
“We really are devastated,” she said. “My family is totally devastated.”
Last month Caroline K. Richardson, 55, was sentenced to five years in prison on three counts of income tax evasion. The Browns have filed lawsuits against the casino and the man who recommended they hire Richardson.
The resolution before the committee would require two levels of voter approval before casinos could operate in Nebraska. First, a majority of statewide voters would have to agree to amend the Nebraska Constitution, and then local voters also would have to pass a proposal before a casino could open in their community.
To sweeten the pot, Karpisek's resolution also proposes how the state's casino tax revenues should be spent. Half would go to property tax relief and the rest would be split among K-12 education, the State Game and Parks Commission and water conservation projects. One percent would help fund programs for problem gamblers.
The committee took no action on the proposal Monday. Karpisek said he may prioritize the measure if it looks likely to advance to the floor.
A casino initiative was most recently voted down in 2004. Nebraska voters also said “no” to video keno in 2006.
Pat Loontjer with Omaha-based Gambling With the Good Life predicted voters would reject casinos again. But she urged the committee to kill the resolution.
Studies have shown that an average of 17 relatives, friends and business associates are hurt by every problem gambler, Loontjer said.
“Do we want to bring that hurt to Nebraska?” she asked.
While it's true that most Nebraskans are within an hour's drive of a casino, there's a big difference between having to cross a river and having to just cross a street, opponents said.
“Many Nebraska families will suffer as a result, especially children and the poor,” said Dave Bydalek, policy director for Nebraska Family Alliance, based in Lincoln.
Karpisek argued that Nebraska is already paying for some of the problems associated with casino gambling without benefiting from the rewards. On a recent visit to casinos in Council Bluffs, he said, between 60 percent and 80 percent of the vehicles in the parking lots had Nebraska plates.
David Nicholson of Lincoln, a former state patrolman who supports the measure, said legalizing casinos would lure major investment to the state.