Hungry gamblers dropped a lot of coin in opening week at WarHorse Lincoln

The Grand Island Independent
Wild Casino

MATT OLBERDINGLincoln Journal-Star

Nebraska’s first week of casino gambling brought in nearly $286,000 in taxes for state and local governments.

Tom Sage, director of the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission, said the WarHorse Casino in Lincoln generated $285,963 in tax revenue in its first seven days of operation, an amount he called “remarkable.”

WarHorse’s temporary casino opened Sept. 24 with 433 slot machines in the Lincoln Race Course’s simulcasting building.

Sage said he did not yet have an accounting of the total amount wagered in those first seven days, and WarHorse officials declined to release that number Monday.

“I know the first day was several million (dollars),” Sage said.

The tax imposed on Nebraska casinos is 20% of revenue, which means WarHorse likely netted $1.4 million in those first seven days. But it’s impossible to know how much was wagered without knowing what percentage was paid out in winnings.

Lynne McNally, CEO of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, told the Journal Star last month that WarHorse planned to have a slot payout that was competitive with what the casinos in Council Bluffs, Iowa, pay.

According to the most recent report from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, that was anywhere from 86%-95% in September, depending on the casino and the type of slot machine.

Assuming a payout of 90%, gamblers putting $14 million into slot machines would net tax revenue of about $280,000. Extend those numbers over a full year, and slot machines in Lincoln could generate $728 million in revenue and $14.5 million in state and local tax revenue.

Specific figures will be provided in regular reports from the state Racing and Gaming Commission.

While it’s unlikely that the Lincoln casino will continue to see wagering numbers at the pace of its first week, McNally on Monday said WarHorse is “very happy” with the amount of wagering it’s seen so far.

Of the nearly $286,000 in tax revenue generated in September, 70%, or about $200,000, goes into a fund that will provide relief to the state’s property taxpayers.

The city of Lincoln and Lancaster County each get about $35,745 — 12.5% apiece — while the state’s general fund and problem gambling fund each get 2.5%, or about $7,150.

WarHorse in Lincoln has the casino market all to itself for now, as it and other licensed horse tracks in Nebraska begin work on large-scale casino operations.

Fonner Park in Grand Island is hoping to have a temporary casino with 300 slot machines open by Thanksgiving, while WarHorse plans to open a temporary or transitional casino at Horsemen’s Park in Omaha with 800 slot machines sometime next spring.

There also are plans for a temporary casino at Ag Park in Columbus, but no timeline has been given.

The projected opening date for the casino resort at WarHorse Lincoln is November 2024. Plans call for a casino with more than 1,100 slot machines, 100 table games, a sportsbook and both live and simulcast horse racing.