Nebraska Casino Expansion Proponents Secure Legislative Victory

Nebraska casino expansion supporters have successfully blocked a legislative effort to prevent further expansion of gaming in the Cornhusker State until possibly 2029.

Nebraska casino gaming horse racetrack racino
State Sen. Rick Holdcroft (R-Bellevue) wants his home county of Sarpy to be allowed to consider a casino development. To expedite that effort, the state Senator successfully argued against a casino impact study that could have prohibited further gaming expansion until 2029. (Image: AP)

Nebraskans approved the state’s Racetrack Gaming Act through a 2020 ballot referendum. The vote amended the state constitution to allow commercial casinos at the state’s six horse racetracks.

The commercial gaming law, backed by almost 65% of the November 2020 vote, allows Lincoln Race Course, Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, the shuttered Atokad Downs in South Sioux City, Fonner Park in Grand Isle, Ag Park in Columbus, and Fairplay Park in Hastings to become Las Vegas-style casinos with slot machines, table games, and sports betting.

Nebraska’s liberalization of gaming came with the requirement that a comprehensive study of the forthcoming industry is conducted after the casinos open. The 2020 law said the state must undergo a market analysis to determine what sort of impact the casinos are having on the state “not later than January 1, 2025.”

But with Nebraska’s first permanent casino not expected to open until next year, some lawmakers in Lincoln have motioned to delay the impact review until as late as 2029.

Legislative Interference

State Sen. John Lowe (R-Kearney) introduced Legislative Bill 311 in January. The statute seeks to delay the casino study by four years.

Such market analysis shall be completed as soon as practicable but not later than January 1, 2029, and every five years thereafter and shall be submitted electronically to the General Affairs Committee of the Legislature and to the Governor,” LB311 reads.

The casino review, to be conducted by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission, is to report on the positive and negative effects experienced by each racetrack casino, the statewide socioeconomic impacts of commercial gaming, where problem gambling rates stand, the number of jobs created, the economic impact of each casino, and how the venues have impacted property values.

Nebraska’s casino law prohibits further expansion of gaming until the market study is published. For counties not home to a horse racetrack interested in welcoming a casino, the study effectively prohibits them from considering a gaming development.

State Sen. Rick Holdcroft (R-Bellevue) says LB311 would put nonracetrack counties at a further economic disadvantage. The Senator was among those in the capital who last week successfully argued against the merits of LB311.

“Let others give [casinos] a try,” Holdcroft told the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee.

The committee eventually voted 4-3 against LB311, effectively terminating the casino bill for the state’s 2023 session.

Limited Review

With LB311 dead for 2023, the Nebraska casino study remains scheduled for a deadline of Jan. 1, 2025. With the first casino expected to open only in 2024, Lowe says the gaming probe will present limited impact findings.

We need real-world data,” Lowe said before the vote on his measure.

Caesars Entertainment, which partnered with the Platte County Agriculture Park on the east side of Columbus to develop its casino, plans to open a temporary casino this month. Its full-scale, permanent resort called Harrah’s Nebraska is slated to open in March 2024.

WarHorse Gaming, a partnership between the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, is developing WarHorse-branded casinos in Lincoln and Omaha. WarHorse also has the development rights for South Sioux City’s Atokad.

WarHorse Lincoln opened its temporary casino last September. The permanent resort is targeting a 2024 opening.

Iowa-based Elite Casino Resorts is developing the Fonner Park casino that’s to be called Grand Island. Fonner Park. It opened a temporary casino in December. The permanent resort is being delayed until 2025.

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