Nebraska’s first casino enjoyed a solid first month of operation, but that could spell trouble for some Iowa competitors.
In October, WarHorse Lincoln Casino generated more than $854,000, according to a report by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission. Given that Nebraska’s gaming tax makes up 20% of the revenue, that means WarHorse Lincoln made roughly $4.27 million last month.
One could assume the Nebraska casino received roughly $43 million in slot bets, going off a 90% average payout. That figure has not been released by the commission yet, but officials say they plan to drop those numbers eventually.
Lincoln casino shows positive numbers in the first two months
Iowa has a handful of casinos located in Council Bluffs: Ameristar, Harrah’s and Horseshoe. Before Nebraska legalized casino gambling, Nebraskans’ best option to gamble was crossing the Iowa border.
When WarHorse announced plans for Lincoln and Omaha, concerns surrounded potential dollars exiting the Iowa market.
“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,” WarHorse representative Drew Niehaus told PlayIA earlier this year.
In just two months of Lincoln’s operation, it appears that’s true.
In its first 38 days of operation, the Lincoln casino totaled $1,140,779 in taxes. A good chunk of that went directly toward property tax relief.
Assessing WarHorse Lincoln’s early effects on Iowa’s Council Bluffs casinos
Looking at slot machine data for the month of October, the three Council Bluffs casinos collected $320.4 million in bets. That’s roughly a $10.4 million dip from September’s number of $330.8 million.
Year-to-year it’s a decline as well. Patrons gambled roughly $338.8 million on slots in October of 2021. That equates to an $18.4 million drop-off.
Iowa expected a drop-off, especially with Nebraska touting plans at other future casino locations like Omaha, which sits a stone’s throw from Hawkeye State. Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission Administrator Brian Ohorilko told PlayIA earlier this year that two studies indicated 45% and 38% declines, respectively in the Council Bluffs market once both the Lincoln and Omaha facilities are fully operational.
According to Ohorilko, casino operators themselves predicted a slightly less steep decline, projecting a 25-33% decrease in business.
In terms of the next steps for Iowa casinos, one option would be to upgrade and keep up with Nebraska’s state-of-the-art facilities. Ohorilko said:
“I do think that it is starting to move, really push the question of ‘When is the appropriate time to reinvest and how much? 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.”
Nebraska casino industry isn’t done growing
Lincoln won’t be able to claim the title as Nebraska’s sole casino for much longer.
Fonner Park in Grand Island aims to open a temporary casino in December of this year.
Additionally, WarHorse hopes to open a temporary casino of its own in Omaha while construction continues for its $700 million expansion plan. The Omaha location will provide:
- A state-of-the-art horse racing track
- The latest casino games
- Five-story parking garage
- More than 1,400 jobs
WarHorse Omaha just received its license from the commission on Nov. 9.