A future Nebraska casino officially has a license. WarHorse Gaming received approval from the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission on Nov. 9 to operate a casino, racing and entertainment complex in Omaha, NE.
Ho-Chunk CEO Lance Morgan and Nebraska Horsemen Benevolent and Protective Association CEO Lynne McNally needed the approval to secure $700 million in financing and keep up with the renovation and expansion plans.
McNally told the Omaha World-Herald that the financing would cover costs for the Nebraska gambling complexes. The figure also includes the cost of a five-story parking garage and more than 1,400 gaming positions.
“We want to be able to hire everybody who wants to work. We have the means to help you get here.”
The Omaha casino, within 15 minutes of Iowa’s Ameristar Council Bluffs Casino, is expected to be complete by 2024. Some casino gaming options will be available during construction, though not in the first half of 2023.
Not everyone was in favor of Omaha casino
The approval came through a 5-1 vote in favor. The lone “no” vote came from commissioner Jeffrey Galyen. Galyen’s concerns revolved around real estate use, specifically:
- The commission’s failure to review plans before approving the license.
- The potential alteration of the racetrack.
He believed the commission could not legally approve the license. “This issue could not be clearer in my mind,” he said. “More work needs to be done. It is not ready today.”
Meanwhile, the other commission members did not share Galyen’s sentiment. “I think if we didn’t take action, we will not be complying with our duty as commissioners,” commission chairman Dennis Lee said.
Nebraska casino revenue will help relieve property taxes
The Omaha and Lincoln casinos will be the state’s first after the legalization of Nebraska casino gambling in 2020.
WarHorse Gaming representative Drew Niehaus told PlayIA earlier this year that “the state of Nebraska really gets one chance to make a really good first impression out of the gate.” Niehaus said that the Omaha casino will feature the newest games available and have a cashless option as well. Additionally, Nebraskans will see their gambling dollars go toward 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. For us, that means to the tune of 20 cents of every dollar goes to property tax relief in Nebraska.”
How will the Nebraska casinos affect Iowa gambling industry
Earlier this year, PlayIA spoke with Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission administrator Brian Ohorilko. At the time of WarHorse’s casino application, Ohorilko highlighted two studies on how casinos in Omaha and Lincoln would impact those in Iowa.
According to Ohorilko, Spectrum Gaming’s study indicated the two Nebraska casinos would result in a 45% decline in Iowa’s Council Bluffs gambling market. The other study, conducted by the Innovation Group, showed a 38% decline.
Ohorilko said in June:
“The challenge really will be what are the Iowa facilities doing to compete? Are they reinvesting back into their facilities? Are they providing entertainment options?
Those are questions that the Council Bluffs facilities need to make and they need to answer, and also in Sioux City. What will they do to respond?”
That response could come in the form of upgrades – a step in the right direction for the industry. “I do think that it is starting to move, really push the question of ‘When is the appropriate time to reinvest and how much?’” Ohorilko continued.
“It’s moving that to the forefront for Iowa properties. That for sure is a positive development. It’s always important and a good thing for the state when we’re seeing a reinvestment into our facilities and we’re seeing different types of non-gaming amenities that come into the state.
I do believe that’s what we’ll see from the Iowa properties in response to this.”