Laws change to keep revenue in state
A casino aims to hit the jackpot by keeping gamblers and profits in Nebraska.
WarHorse Casino plans to open two state-of-the-art casinos and racetracks in Nebraska, one at Horseman’s Park in Omaha at 63rd and Q and another at the Lincoln Race Course at 7055 S. First St. in Lincoln.
Ho-Chunk Inc., put up the initiative to allow casino gaming and received enough signatures to be approved last year. Ho-Chunk Inc., the business arm of the Winnebago Tribe, focuses on creating jobs and diversifying the tribe’s revenue.
Not only do these new developments bring casino gambling to Nebraska, but they also offer some financial benefits, according to casino representatives.
Drew Niehaus, a WarHorse representative, said Nebraskans should be excited about the benefits WarHorse has to offer for the state.
“The ballot initiative approved by Nebraska voters mandated by law that a certain percentage of casino tax revenue goes toward property tax relief,” Niehaus said.
WarHorse will offer a variety of casino games along with live horse racing tracks. The Legislature also voted to approve a bill permitting casinos to offer sports gambling.
Cindy Curran of Nebraska City is a teller at Horseman’s Park and has managed the track’s social media for over a decade. She said these casinos are a great opportunity for Nebraska gamblers to keep their money in the state.
“You think of all the billions of dollars that go across the river [Missouri River],” Curran said.
Curran said she started working at Omaha’s Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track in 1975 and was there when it closed in 1995 because of competition from Iowa casinos.
“It really took a toll on Nebraska horse racing,” Curran said. “That was the death knell right there.”
Curran said she believes if the state had decided to put a casino at Aksarben 25 years ago, it would have been a mecca and a great economic provider for Nebraska.
“I think they [Nebraskans] finally hit the limit of where people realize, why are our tax dollars going over there?” Curran said. “They’re benefitting from it and not us.”
WarHorse and Ho-Chunk are waiting for Gov. Pete Ricketts, a firm opponent of gambling, to appoint a gaming commission. Once a gaming commission is appointed, the racing and gaming commission has to set rules for the casinos according to Curran. When that is in order, Ho-Chunk can begin construction.
Curran mentioned that Ricketts could very well wait until his term ends in January of 2023 to appoint a gaming commission. According to Niehaus, once a gaming commission is appointed, WarHorse has everything in order to begin construction of the casinos.
Scott Bakhit of Venice said he is eager to keep money in the state and save time by not having to drive into Iowa to wager. Bakhit has been going across the river to the casinos in Iowa for the past 20 years.
“I think it’d be a great opportunity for Nebraska because all of the tax dollars and all of the money that’s leaving Nebraska to go to Iowa will stay in Nebraska,” Bakhit said.
Bakhit is hoping that WarHorse offers the same amenities that the casinos in Iowa offer.
The Lincoln WarHorse location will have a state-of-the-art resort and spa along with a parking garage. The Omaha location will strictly be a casino and racetrack because the property is landlocked at its current location.
According to Niehaus, both casinos will be fully operating 18 months after they break ground but the Lincoln location will allow gamblers to come in early to play slot machines that will be available 6 months after breaking ground.
Curran said with the anticipation of the new casinos, Nebraska-bred horses are returning to the state which will help the horse community as well.
Curran mirrors the feelings of those who have supported Nebraska gaming for years.
“I’m looking forward to that money staying over here,” Curran said.