Temporary casino in Lincoln could be open in just over 2 months
If all goes as planned, Nebraskans could be taking their first pull of a slot machine handle in just over two months.
The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission on Thursday gave WarHorse Gaming and the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association the go-ahead to start work on a temporary casino at the Lincoln Race Course that will have up to 300 slot machines.
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 wiring for gaming equipment.
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.
McNally said that if all goes as planned, the temporary casino will open Sept. 19 at Lincoln Race Course, which is located near U.S. 77 at West Denton Road.
WarHorse held a groundbreaking on Tuesday for its Lincoln casino resort, which has a projected price tag of $220 million and will include 1,200 gaming stations, a 196-room hotel, event space, spa and several restaurants.
The company also is planning a groundbreaking July 27 for its Omaha casino at Horsemen's Park.
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 one to open on a temporary basis, it won't be the only one likely to open this year.
Fonner Park in Grand Island also is planning a temporary casino with about 200 slot machines that it hopes to open sometime in the fall.
Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak told the commission Thursday that work on a temporary casino will likely start shortly after the State Fair ends on Labor Day.
And it's possible that a third temporary casino could open this year.
Robert Livingston, senior vice president of development for Caesar’s 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 the middle 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 Caesar's, 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 on when it plans to move forward.
The company did, however, inform the commission that it no longer plans to move forward with plans for new racetracks and casinos in North Platte and Gering.
The Legislature passed a bill this spring 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.
Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or [email protected].