Nebraska: Warhorse Casino in Lincoln breaks ground; temporary facility expected in September

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WarHorse Gamingbroke ground at the Lincoln Racecourse in Nebraska on Tuesday. The ceremony marks the beginning of an 18-month construction phase for the upcoming WarHorse Casino Lincoln, and follows the reception of provisional licensing last month.

WarHorse Gaming is an entity formed by Ho-Chunk Inc.—the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska— and the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. Officials for both parties were present at the event.

"This has been going on for a very long time in terms of what we’ve been doing and the horseman has been doing to try and really build up the horse-racing industry,” Lance Morgan, the president and CEO of Ho-Chuck Inc., told KOLN. “And we think that casino gaming adding to the horse racing is going to make for a big draw and a great tax benefit for the state and a lot of jobs."

In addition to Lincoln, Warhorse Gaming is set to also develop a casino in Omaha. Morgan said the properties combined will cost a total of $500 million to $600 million, with the first phase of the Warhorse Lincoln just weeks away.

"I think there’s an organic enthusiasm for it in the community,” commentedLynne McNally, CEO of Nebraska Horseman. “I think people are going to be excited about it and I think we’re going to be a huge asset to Lincoln and Omaha.

The Lincoln casino is expected to see the opening of a temporary venue in September, which will include more than 400 slots. The full-scale WarHorse Casino Lincoln would open in about 18 months, and will include a 1,300-slot casino, a 200-room hotel, event space, spa, several restaurants, and live and simulcast horse racing.

“We’re planning a modest phased opening of 440 slot machines for early fall," Morgan explained. "Nebraskans have been asking us for months when the casino will open, so we want to give them an opportunity to play as soon as we can – not to mention generating some much-needed property tax relief for the state.”

Warhorse said the casino will bring about 900 jobs to the city. Furthermore, WarHorse intends to break ground on the Omaha project sometime this summer. It expects to open a temporary or transitional facility with 800 slot machines about 10 months after construction starts.

Nebraska casino industry is opening up on different fronts. Late last month, the Ogallala City Council and Keith County Board of Commissioners approved plans for a $100 million project that would be built by the same gaming company that's building a casino at Fonner Park in Grand Island. The move was done in anticipation of a potential allowance of further casinos at new horse racing tracks.

Elite Casino Resorts stated that the proposed project, Lake Mac Casino Resort & Racetrack, would feature a casino with 650 slot machines, 20 table games, six poker tables, a sportsbook, and a show lounge that would provide local and regional entertainment. It would also include a racetrack, a 120-room hotel, 10,000 square feet of convention and event space, an RV park and a high-end truck stop.

The state regulator began taking applications last month after Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed off rules to allow casino gambling in the Cornhusker State. Elite filed for a gaming license on June 28, which if approved would pave the way for a temporary casino at Grand Island’s Fonner Park by the end of this year.