Nebraska Racinos Could Open Within A Year, Have Impact On Iowa Gaming

Posted on November 10, 2020

Legal poker, slots and table games in the Cornhusker State are no longer a matter of if but when.

If everything goes according to plans, Nebraska casinos at racetracks could be a reality in about a year. However, there could be legal delays on the horizon.

Furthermore, bordering Iowa casinos will certainly feel the affects of the future gaming competition from its neighboring state.

Optimistic appraisal of Nebraska casino construction

According to the Associated Press, the “racinos” could welcome gamblers to their new digs in late 2021. The heightened optimism centers on Lincoln and Omaha.

Lance Morgan, the president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., says development at the racetrack in South Sioux City, NE, could take longer. In his opinion, the development there will require more work.

Ho-Chunk is a holding of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. The company backed the voter education campaign, which helped pass the statewide casino measures on Nov. 3. It also funded a lawsuit to force the measures onto the ballot this year, so it’s safe to say the company is dedicated to getting a return on its investments.

Morgan made no mention of the NE racetracks at Columbus, Grand Island or Hastings. However, it’s difficult to envision the projects in those places moving along at a faster pace than those in Lincoln and Omaha.

He did stress that the immediate focus of the development would be on the gaming areas. Once those are up and running, construction would begin on amenities like hotels and restaurants.

Construction may not be the one dictator of the casinos’ timelines; greater delays may come from other interested parties.

Legal facet of Nebraska gambling isn’t quite complete

Although NE voters approved the three constitutional amendments to allow casino gaming in the state by nearly a two-thirds margin, conservative interests still have a path to confound the casino developers.

NE Legislature still has to create regulations for all aspects of casino gaming in the Cornhusker State. NE Gov. Pete Ricketts said he had tasked his team with reviewing the new amendments to “respect the will of the voters.”

Ricketts was one of the most vocal opponents of those measures. The governor donated $100,000 of his money to advocating against gambling expansion. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that members of the unicameral legislature and he could drag their feet on finalizing regs for that reason.

Additionally, anti-gambling groups in the state haven’t ruled out the possibility of a lawsuit to block the implementation of the casino measures. Should those prove successful, it could tie casino development in litigation for quite a while.

If the legislature cooperates, litigation fails or never arises, and development goes as planned, Nebraskans might be able to visit casinos in at least two cities in their state late next year. Few things ever go as planned, however.

NE casinos could affect Iowa casinos

The four Council Bluffs casinos, such as the Ameristar Casino, near the state line will likely miss the revenue from their Nebraska customers.

Iowa Gaming Association President Wes Ehrecke said:

“We’re still trying to rebound in all the markets because of COVID-19. To have something like this coming online, could have a ripple effect.”

Photo by AP Photo / Nati Harnik
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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