Six Nebraska Cities Can Build ‘Racinos,’ Others Want A Horse In The Race

Written By Adam Hensley on February 16, 2022 - Last Updated on July 22, 2022

As Nebraska’s six existing racetracks prepare to house casinos, more attention turns to the possibility of the state adding other casinos outside of the proposed “racinos.”

The six locations in line to make history as the state’s first casinos are:

  • Horsemen’s Atokad Downs (South Sioux City)
  • Columbus Horse Races (Columbus)
  • Hastings FairPlay Park (Hastings)
  • Fonner Park (Grand Island)
  • Horsemen’s Park (Omaha)
  • Lincoln Race Course (Lincoln)

Whether Nebraska sees additional casinos pop up is another story.

More Nebraska cities want casinos

General Affairs Committee chairman Tom Briese of Albion introduced Legislative Bill 876. It will decide if Nebraska adds more casinos to its crop of “racinos.”

The bill states that new casinos must be at least 50 miles from an existing racetrack. The six casinos already planned at Nebraska’s existing racetracks would be exempt from this measure.

This 50-mile minimum creates a problem for some of Nebraska’s proposed casinos, though. Cities that would like to build horse tracks as a casino magnet are:

  • Bellevue
  • Gering
  • Kimball
  • Norfolk
  • North Platte
  • Ogallala
  • York

Of those seven locations, Bellevue, York and Norfolk could not house casinos, as they’re too close to current racetracks.

“I don’t think the public wants to see a casino at every exit on Interstate 80,” Briese said at a hearing on the bill.

That 50-mile radius isn’t set in stone. One LB 876 amendment would push that minimum distance to 75 miles, except in Nebraska’s counties with 100,000 or more people.

“Geographical limits might be appropriate. (It) might be great in out-state Nebraska, but the population density should also be in consideration,” Briese said.

Not everyone wants more

Pat Loontjer of Gambling with the Good Life is one of the leading opponents to expanded gambling. The group is in favor of limiting Nebraska’s casino count to the six racetracks.

Her thought process is to hold off on additional expansion and observe the effects of the new racinos.

“Let’s wait a couple of years, see how it impacts those communities and family and taxes,” she said. “And then see if we want to inundate the state with casinos.”

The General Affair Committee could mandate an in-depth study for new racinos in the state. It would determine the community need for a casino. It would also appease opponents like Loontjer by making the process more deliberate.

What else does Bill 876 require?

In addition to the location requirements, Bill 876 would require:

  • Racetracks to hold a minimum of five live racing days a year by Jan. 1, 2026
  • A self-exclusion list for problem gamblers who wish to be barred from racetracks and casinos
  • An increase in licensing fees ($1 million to $5 million)
  • A shorter license period for racetracks (20 years to five)
  • Tougher penalties for gaming operators who violate Nebraska’s Racing and Gaming Commission regulations.

Iowa is watching the Nebraska casino process. Council Bluffs is Iowa’s biggest market.

Photo by Nati Harnik / AP
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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