Casino gambling may start in a few weeks. Take a look at WarHorse Lincoln's temporary gaming floor

Lincoln Journal Star
Casino gambling may start in a few weeks. Take a look at WarHorse Lincoln's temporary gaming floor
Wild Casino

Casino gambling in Nebraska will remain stuck at the gate for a bit longer.

The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission failed to vote Wednesday on granting the state's first permanent casino license for the WarHorse Casino in Lincoln, instead choosing to extend its provisional license for another 30 days.

The provisional license, which was first granted earlier this summer and allows WarHorse to do work necessary to get casino gaming up and running, does not allow it to actually offer gaming to the public.

However, Lynne McNally, CEO of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said she does not believe Wednesday's vote will throw a wrench into plans to have a temporary casino open in Lincoln by the middle of September.

The horsemen's group, which is partnering with WarHorse Gaming to open a casino resort at the Lincoln Race Course near U.S. 77 and West Denton Road, still plans to open a temporary casino with more than 400 slot machines on Sept. 19.

"I think it's going to be fine," McNally said after Wednesday's meeting.

WarHorse has apparently not completed several tasks that are required for it to get a permanent license, including testing its gaming machines. The commission also has not completed background checks on some of WarHorse's board members and at least one of its key executives.

Commission Director Tom Sage said the background investigations that have been done have found no red flags with WarHorse or any of its employees, and he saw nothing "that would preclude WarHorse from receiving a license."

Commissioners, however, decided it would be better to wait and make sure the necessary items get completed before granting the permanent license.

They voted unanimously to approve a 30-day extension of WarHorse's provisional license, with a suggestion that a permanent license could be approved at a September meeting if all necessary tasks are completed.

"I've been assured that that will happen," McNally said.

In addition to allowing WarHorse to open a temporary casino, a permanent license will allow it to move forward on construction of its casino resort, which will include more than 1,200 gaming stations, a 196-room hotel, event space, spa and several restaurants.

Construction of that is expected to take 18 to 24 months. Both the temporary casino and permanent space will be open 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.

In the meantime, the temporary Lincoln casino, whenever it opens, will likely have the Nebraska market to itself for at least a couple of months.

Fonner Park in Grand Island is planning to start construction on its own temporary casino after the Nebraska State Fair ends on Monday.

Fonner Park and its partner, Elite Casino Resorts, want to begin work next week on a temporary casino in the concourse of its existing grandstand, but the commission has not yet signed off on its plans.

Fonner Park is hoping to have its temporary facility open by mid-November, but it's not clear if that can occur if it isn't able to start work next week.

When Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak asked the commission Wednesday if it was OK to start work next week, he was told he would have to make that decision on his own.

"It's not our intention to slow walk anything," Commission Chairman Dennis Lee said.

WarHorse also is planning to open a temporary casino at Horsemen's Park in Omaha, but it will not do so until it completes renovations to the existing complex, a process that's expected to take about 10 months.

Columbus Exposition and Racing, which is partnering with Harrah's, is looking at the possibility of opening a temporary casino in its current home at Agricultural Park while a new casino and racetrack are built across town.

A number of details still need to be worked out, however, and officials have not said publicly when such an operation might open.

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