Casino rules set to come out next week; vote set for Dec. 17
A year after Nebraska voters approved casino gambling at the state's horse racing tracks, there's finally a light at the end of the tunnel for the tracks hoping to get gaming licenses.
Tom Sage, executive director of the Nebraska Racing & Gaming Commission, said Wednesday that a final draft of casino regulations is set to be released Nov. 12.
Sage said the commission has been working on the rules for the past couple of months, after it received a consultant's report in early September. It has fielded comments from the public and the gaming industry and has incorporated some of the suggestions into its draft regulations, he said.
"I'm very, very pleased with where we're at with the rules," Sage told the commission during its meeting Wednesday.
Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed rules at their next scheduled meeting on Dec. 17. Because of the expected interest from industry members and the public, the commission plans to hold the meeting at Nebraska Innovation Campus.
Dennis Lee, the commission's chairman, called the Dec. 17 meeting "very critical" in terms of timing. Assuming the board votes in favor of the proposed rules, they would then have to be reviewed and signed off on by both Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson before being officially recognized by the Secretary of State's Office.
That means it would likely be early next year before any tracks can apply for licenses.
All six existing horse tracks in the state, including the Lincoln Race Course, have announced plans to build casinos. There also have been proposals announced for new tracks in Bellevue, Gering, Kimball, Norfolk, North Platte and York, all of which are likely to seek casino licenses as well.
A $220 million WarHorse Casino is planned in Lincoln. The proposal includes more than 1,200 gaming stations, a 196-room hotel, event space, five or six restaurants and other amenities such as a spa. Construction of that is likely to take 18-24 months, and the Lincoln Race Course plans to open a temporary casino with 305 slot machine stations once it obtains a license.
It's not clear whether the proposed regulations would favor existing tracks or take geography into account when deciding whether to grant licenses.
Also on Wednesday, the commission approved dates for live horse racing at the state's existing tracks next year.
Fonner Park will run 37 days of racing between Feb. 19 and May 22, and Columbus Exposition and Racing will run 12 days between May 27 and June 5. Atokad in South Sioux City plans two days, and Lincoln Race Course, Horsemen's Park in Omaha and Fairplay Park in Hastings all plan one day. Race dates at those four tracks are still to be determined.
Lynne McNally, executive vice president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said Lincoln and Omaha will likely hold their single race days early in the year because they don't know what effect potential casino construction schedules will have on the tracks at those facilities.
Under Nebraska law, horse tracks must host at least one day of live racing annually to be able to host simulcasting, which all tracks except the one in South Sioux City do.
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