Nebraska: WarHorse Casino Lincoln targeting Sept. 19 for temporary facility opening; awaits casino license

Nebraska: WarHorse Casino Lincoln targeting Sept. 19 for temporary facility opening; awaits casino license
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WarHorse Gamingreceived Thursday approval from the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission to begin construction on a temporary casino at the Lincoln Race Course that will have up to 300 slot machines. The developer targets an opening in two months.

The entity is formed by Ho-Chunk Inc.—the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska— and the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. The two partners are currently operating under a provisional gaming license the commission issued to them last month after they became the first entity to officially apply for a casino gaming license in the state.

Lynne McNally, executive vice president of the horsemen's group, said work will include laying out and reconfiguring space in the existing simulcast wagering building and doing the wiring for gaming equipment, according to Lincoln Journal Star. She added that the temporary casino is expected to open on September 19, at Lincoln Race Course, which is located near U.S. 77 at West Denton Road.

WarHorse Gamingbroke ground at the Lincoln Racecourse in Nebraska on Tuesday, marking the beginning of an 18-month construction phase. 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.

Furthermore, WarHorse intends to break ground on an Omaha project on July 27 at Horsemen’s Park. It expects to open a temporary or transitional facility with 800 slot machines about 10 months after construction starts. 

However, as reported by Journal Star, McNally said those groundbreakings are purely ceremonial at this point because WarHorse can't start any work on its permanent casinos until it receives its gaming license, something that won't happen until next month at the earliest. 

While WarHorse's Lincoln casino will be the first Nebraska casino to open on a temporary basis, it won’t be the only venue to open this year. Elite Casino Resorts received approval from the Ogallala City Council and Keith County Board of Commissioners for a $100 million casino project at Fonner Park in Grand Island, and intends to open a temporary venue with about 200 slots machines sometime in the fall.

Elite stated that the full 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.

However, this is not all for Nebraska’s gaming industry, as there is a possibility of a third casino opening this year. Robert Livingston, senior vice president of development for Caesars Entertainment, told the commission that the company is looking at opening a temporary casino in Columbus, where its subsidiary Harrah's is partnering with Columbus Exposition and Racing on a $75 million casino development.

Livingston said the company hopes to have something open by themiddle of November. The temporary casino would be located in the ballroom of Agricultural Park, the location of the current horse racing track in Columbus.

Plans are very tentative at this point, with many details still to be worked out. For example, Livingston said Caesars, which recently became the fourth entity to formally apply for a casino license, does not yet have a lease signed for the ballroom space.

Another detail still to be worked out is whether the partners can apply for a license for the temporary site at Ag Park and then transfer it to the new permanent casino site near the intersection of U.S. 81 and U.S. 30, the former site of the Columbus Event Center. Livingston asked for clarification from commissioners on that issue, but they said they could not provide any guidance.

The two other existing horse racing tracks, in South Sioux City and Hastings, have both announced plans for casinos but have yet to submit applications.WarHorse, which is developing the South Sioux City casino, has previously said it would concentrate on the Lincoln and Omaha casinos first.

Global Gaming Nebraska, a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma,hopes to operate a casino in Hastings.It has not given any indication of when it plans to move forward. The company did, however, inform the commission that itno longer plans to move forward with plans for new racetracks and casinos in North Platte and Gering.

The Legislature passed a bill in April that puts a moratorium on any new operations until the Racing and Gaming Commission completes studies of the horse racing market, the casino gambling market, and the socioeconomic impact of tracks and casinos. The deadline for those studies is Jan. 1, 2025.