The first casino in Nebraska received its license and opened over the weekend.
WarHorse Casino Lincoln opened its temporary location at 10 a.m. Sept. 24 at the Lincoln Race Course thoroughbred track.
Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission approved the license on a 6-0 vote the day before.
The temporary Nebraska casino will be open 24/7 as construction on the final product continues. Ho-Chunk Inc. president and CEO Lance Morgan told WOWT:
“We’ve worked on it for years, and to see it come to fruition is almost surreal, like, I’m having trouble believing it.”
WarHorse Lincoln casino features
WarHorse’s temporary casino features 433 slot machines in a converted simulcast/sports bar area, but work is far from finished.
“This partnership was created to help support the horse racing industry in Nebraska,” Pete Graziano, of WarHorse Casino, told WOWT. “We will continue to have a robust simulcast offering here.”
There are two phases to WarHorse’s project. The first is finishing a 9,000-square-foot gaming floor, which will house more than 400 slot machines and boast simulcast and live racing.
The second phase, which is set to wrap up in September 2023, will include:
- More than 1,100 slot machines
- 27 table games
- A sportsbook
- Simulcast horse racing
- A hotel with around 200 rooms
- A three-story parking garage
- High-end dining options
In total, the casino could cost $200 million, which includes the hotel.
Property tax relief a selling point for Lincoln casino
PlayIA spoke with WarHorse representative Drew Niehaus in June when Omaha and Lincoln originally applied for casino licenses. He hopes Nebraskans would opt to spend money within the state rather than across the border into Iowa, where casino gambling has been legal for some time.
Property tax relief is one of those selling points. Niehaus explained that 70% of tax money from gambling goes directly to property tax relief.
“We’re really hoping Nebraskans choose to keep their money in Nebraska and reap the rewards of some of that tax revenue as a result of it,” Niehaus told PlayIA.
What’s the plan for other Nebraska casinos?
In addition to Lincoln, Omaha is in line for a state-of-the-art casino.
WarHorse Gaming applied for licenses for its proposed casinos in Omaha and Lincoln in early June. This came after the state approved the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission’s rules and regulations one month before. Niehaus said:
“The state of Nebraska really gets one chance to make a really good first impression out of the gate. So having that patience — and knowing that what they came up with for rules and regulations — is solid.
“We really didn’t have any challenges or issues with the rules and regs when they released them for review. They did a great job. On our end, having that level of patience has paid off.”
Niehaus also told PlayIA at the time that Omaha and Lincoln casinos would feature the latest casino games available and cashless options. Niehaus continued:
“Nebraskans are ready for this. They have been since the election was over in 2020. There’s been a lot of input from the state as far as the citizens go. They’re very excited for this as an opportunity.
I think a lot of Nebraskans see this not just as a new industry in the state, but overall, just a big boost for Nebraska. You’re talking literally thousands of jobs across the state.”
Niehaus initially projected Omaha’s casino to finish construction in 2023.
Could casinos revive Nebraska horse racing?
Lynne McNally, CEO of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Association, thinks so. She told WOWT:
“These measures will completely revitalize horse racing in the state of Nebraska. Back when Ak-Sar-Ben was open, it was one of the top 10 racetracks in the united states. We want to get as close back to that as possible. I think you’re really going to see the kind of racing that Nebraskans are used to seeing when Ak-Sar-Ben was open.”
McNalley explained that more than $2 million goes toward constructing a new racetrack surface in Lincoln.
“It’s going to be a fantastic place to race.”