Iowa Casinos Hope To Play Cards Right As They Face Competition

Written By Connie Reinert on February 22, 2023 - Last Updated on February 23, 2023
Competition From Nebraska Motivates Casinos In Iowa

With a third temporary casino opening soon and new permanent casinos under construction in Nebraska, casinos in Iowa are hoping to play their cards right with investments in space, games, sportsbooks, dining, and entertainment.

Casinos in Iowa planning major updates

Harrah’s Council Bluffs announced plans to invest $22 million in renovations to their casino. Designs include expanding the gaming floor, remodeling hotel rooms, and creating a new Guy Fieri restaurant concept. The casino first announced the opening of Guy Fieri’s Council Bluffs Kitchen and Bar last October. The $4 million restaurant is expected to open in May 2023. It will feature an outdoor patio and Fieri’s signature American-style cuisine.

Of the $22 million investment, $6 million will be spent on the gaming floor renovation. It will allow for 200 new slot machines and an enhanced sportsbook. The hotel remodel is expected to cost $12 million. And according to the casino, will include fresh design elements featuring bold purple and blue hues that complement the dark wood and contemporary fixtures.

Three Council Bluffs casinos face new competition with the $200 million WarHorse Casino Omaha opening across the river. The casino is expected to be ready in August with 800 slot machines and will be fully operational in 2024. The full-scale casino will have 1200 slot machines, table games and a sportsbook. The casino will be located at Horsemen’s Park near 63rd and Q streets.

Near Council Bluffs, the Prairie Flower Casino in Carter Lake, Iowa began construction of a 60,000-square-foot addition in late fall 2022. The casino is owned by the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and is located on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River.

The expansion includes the addition of 600 slots and electronic table games. It will also have a sportsbook with a gastro pub, dining options, a center bar and a retail area. The expected completion is the end of summer. The Prairie Flower Casino say they have always planned to expand the casino. The timing could not be better as new competition heats up nearby.

Distance from Council Bluffs to new casinos in Nebraska

  • Omaha: 10 miles
  • Lincoln: 67 miles
  • Columbus: 94 miles
  • Grand Island: 150 miles

A study by the Spectrum Gaming Group prepared for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission predicts major losses in revenue for Iowa by 2025 because of casinos opening in Nebraska.

The analysis showed that Council Bluffs casinos are most at-risk with 80% of their gaming revenue coming from Nebraska residents. According to the study, Council Bluffs casinos could lose as much as 45% of their market to new Omaha competition.

Just up the interstate, Blackbird Bend Casino near Onawa has enhanced its offerings. For the first time, a tribal casino in Iowa now has an in-person sportsbook.

Customers can place bets on any game or contest at a kiosk located in the casino. The Blackbird Bend Corporation partnered with the Nevada company, ISI Sports to bring sports betting to the casino.

Temporary casinos opening soon in Nebraska

The first temporary casino opened in September 2022 in Lincoln, Neb. at the Lincoln Race Course thoroughbred track. It generated nearly $286,000 in tax revenue during its first week with 433 slot machines in the 9,000-square-foot facility.

The future $200 million WarHorse Casino and hotel complex is under construction. The permanent casino, expected to open in late 2024 and will feature:

  • Over 1,000 slot machines
  • 100 table games
  • A sportsbook and sports bar
  • Live and simulcast horse racing
  • Restaurants
  • A 220-room hotel

Ho-Chunk Inc. is the parent company of WarHorse Gaming. The company is building another casino at Omaha’s Horseman’s Park. Ho-Chunk may consider building an additional WarHorse Casino at Atokad in South Sioux City, Neb.

The second temporary casino opened at Fonner Park as the Grand Island Casino Resort in late December 2022. The temporary casino owned by Elite Casino Resorts has 300 slot machines, kiosks for horse betting, and simulcasting.

Meanwhile, plans for a $100 million permanent casino opening in 2025 are in the works. The full resort will feature

  • 650 slot machines
  • 20 table games
  • A sportsbook and sports bar
  • Variety of dining options including top-floor dining
  • Live weekend entertainment
  • 116-room boutique hotel
  • Salon, spa, gift shop, and indoor and outdoor pool

Harrah’s Nebraska owned by Caesars Entertainment will be the third to open a temporary casino. It will be at Ag Park in Columbus and is set to open in March. The temporary casino will feature about 250 slot machines.

The permanent casino which plans to open in 2024 with a 40,000-square-foot casino and sportsbook is a $75 million project.

Voters approved casino gambling in Nebraska in 2020, allowing them at licensed racetracks in the state. There are six existing racetracks in Nebraska located at Omaha, Lincoln, Columbus, Grand Island, South Sioux City and Hastings.

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Connie Reinert

Connie J. Reinert has a long history of work in the news industry with roles as a designer, photographer and reporter to being a publisher/owner. Much of her current work focuses on being a good story teller.

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