Here's what to know before the first pull of a slot machine in Lincoln

Lincoln Journal Star

The dawn of casino gambling in Nebraska is fast approaching.

If the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission votes as expected at its meeting on Friday to grant a permanent gaming license to WarHorse Gaming, the company plans to open its temporary casino at the Lincoln Race Course the next day.

Lynne McNally, CEO of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said the Lincoln casino is scheduled to open at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, assuming its license is finally in hand.

"I wanted to open an hour after we get the license," said McNally, whose organization is partnering with the Winnebago Tribe's Ho-Chunk Inc. to open the Lincoln casino, as well as one in Omaha.

The Lincoln casino, however, will be the first to open, and McNally said she's not sure what to expect on opening day. WarHorse has done virtually no advertising of the potential opening date, and since there is no home Nebraska football game on Saturday, there won't be tens of thousands of extra people in town.

But she is expecting a good crowd, adding the casino has a plan in place if people keep showing up even after it reaches capacity.

In preparation for the first plays on slot machines at a state-licensed casino, the Journal Star has put together a list of answers to questions you might have.

Where is the Lincoln casino located?

WarHorse's temporary casino is set up inside the simulcast wagering facility at the Lincoln Race Course near U.S. 77 and West Denton Road. The entrance to the facility is off of West Denton Road.

While the temporary casino is in place, a new casino-resort will be under construction at the Lincoln Race Course site.

What games will be offered at the temporary casino?

WarHorse Lincoln has 433 slot machines, which McNally said run the gamut from classic slot machine games people find at the casinos in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to games that are so new they will only be found at the casino in Lincoln.

There is a plan to add sports betting at the temporary casino once rules for it are finalized in Nebraska, but there will not be any table games because there isn't enough space.

WarHorse's slot machines will take both cash and vouchers that are available via kiosks and at teller windows. Credit cards cannot be used for gambling activities. Winnings will be disbursed via vouchers that can be redeemed for cash at the kiosks or teller windows.

What percentage will machines pay out?

McNally said payouts will vary depending on machines but will be competitive with what the casinos in Council Bluffs pay in winnings. According to the most recent reports available from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, the three Council Bluffs casinos had slot payout rates in August that ranged from about 88%-95%.

Is wagering on simulcast horse races still available?

Even though the amount of floor space dedicated to simulcasting was reduced to make room for slot machines, WarHorse Lincoln was required to keep the same number of monitors and betting stations for simulcast wagering.

There is a small simulcast-only space, and simulcasting monitors and betting stations are also spread around the temporary casino floor.

How old do you have to be to bet?

The gambling age for both casino gaming and simulcast betting is 21, and no one under 21 will be allowed into the facility. Patrons will have to show identification to gain entrance.

What hours will the casino be open?

WarHorse plans to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Once it opens on Saturday, "we will never close," McNally said.

Will alcohol be available 24 hours a day?

The casino must follow existing liquor laws, which in Lincoln only allow alcohol to be sold from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

The casino, like other businesses, must follow the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act, which bans smoking in indoor workplaces and public spaces. However, there will be a separate smoking "room" with 51 slot machines. It technically qualifies as an outdoor space because it is not completely enclosed, but it does have its own heating and cooling system.

The temporary casino will offer food service, although it won't be as extensive as what's been offered at the Lincoln Race Course. McNally said it will be primarily "grab and go" items.

How many employees does the casino have?

McNally said WarHorse Lincoln currently has about 180 employees but needs about 250 to be fully staffed for its temporary casino operations.

When will other casinos open across the state?

Fonner Park in Grand Island hopes to open a temporary casino sometime around Thanksgiving that will have 300 slot machines. Caesars Entertainment announced this week that it has signed a lease with the Platte County Agricultural Society to operate a temporary casino in Columbus with 250 slot machines, although no timeline for opening has been announced.

WarHorse also plans to open a temporary or transitional casino at Horsemen's Park in Omaha with 800 slot machines, but it's not expected to open until sometime in the spring.

When will the permanent WarHorse Lincoln casino and hotel open?

A permanent gaming license will allow WarHorse to finally start construction on the new casino and resort facilities that have been in the planning stages since voters approved casino gambling in November 2020.

There already has been a fair amount of dirt moving and other site preparation going on at Lincoln Race Course, but WarHorse will now be able to start building actual structures.

The plan is to add on to the current Lincoln Race Course building on the north, south and east sides, leading to a casino with more than 1,100 slot machines, 100 table games, a sportsbook and both live and simulcast horse racing. The complex will also include several dining options, including a steakhouse, sports bar and café. Plans also call for a 200-room hotel and a three-story parking garage.

McNally said the current projected opening date for the casino resort is November 2024.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or [email protected].