Advocates of Nebraska Casino Expansion Achieve Legislative Triumph

Supporters of casino expansion in Nebraska have thwarted an initiative to halt additional gaming growth within the state potentially until 2029.

Jun 24, 2024
3 min read
State Sen. Rick Holdcroft (R-Bellevue) wants his home county of Sarpy to be allowed to consider a...
State Sen. Rick Holdcroft (R-Bellevue) wants his home county of Sarpy to be allowed to consider a casino development. To expedite that effort, the state Senator successfully argued against a casino impact study that could have prohibited further gaming expansion until 2029.


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Advocates of Nebraska Casino Expansion Achieve Legislative Triumph

Supporters of expanding casinos in Nebraska, known as the Cornhusker State, have managed to halt a legislative initiative aimed at halting the expansion of gaming till around 2029.

In 2020, Nebraskans approved the state’s Racing Gaming Act via a ballot referendum. This amendment to the constitution allowed commercial casinos to operate at the state’s six horse racetracks, following a vote that was approved by nearly 65% of the November 2020 vote.

This commercial gaming law allows Lincoln Race Course, Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, the closed Atokad Downs in South Sioux City, Fonner Park in Grand Isle, Ag Park in Columbus, and Fairplay Park in Hastings to transform into Las Vegas-style casinos, featuring slot machines, table games, and sports betting.

The relaxing of gaming regulations in Nebraska required a comprehensive study of the burgeoning industry to be conducted after the casinos commenced operations. The 2020 law mandated that the state must carry out a market analysis “not later than January 1, 2025” to evaluate the impact of the casinos on the state.

With Nebraska's first permanent casino not anticipated to open until next year, some lawmakers in Lincoln have proposed delaying the impact review until as late as 2029.

Legislative Interference

State Sen. John Lowe (R-Kearney) presented Legislative Bill 311 in January. This statute proposes a delay of the casino study by four years.

According to LB311, the casino review, to be conducted by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission, should be completed "as soon as practicable but not later than January 1, 2029, and every five years thereafter and shall be submitted electronically to the General Affairs Committee of the Legislature and to the Governor."

The casino review will cover the positive and negative effects experienced by each racetrack casino, the statewide socioeconomic impacts of commercial gaming, problem gambling rates, the number of jobs created, the economic impact of each casino, and the impact on property values.

Nebraska’s casino law restricts further expansion of gaming until the market study is published. For counties without a horse racetrack, the study effectively blocks them from considering a gaming development.

State Sen. Rick Holdcroft (R-Bellevue) believes LB311 would put non-racetrack counties at a further economic disadvantage. Several members in the capital argued against the merits of LB311 last week.

“Let others give [casinos] a try,” Holdcroft told the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee.

The committee eventually voted 4-3 against LB311, effectively eliminating the casino bill for the state’s 2023 session.

Limited Review

With LB311 shelved for 2023, the Nebraska casino study remains scheduled for a deadline of Jan. 1, 2025. With the first casino forecasted to open only in 2024, Lowe suggests that the gaming study will present limited findings on the impact.

"We need real-world data," Lowe said prior to the vote on his measure.

Caesars Entertainment, in partnership with the Platte County Agriculture Park on the east side of Columbus, plans to open a temporary casino this month. Its full-scale, permanent resort, Harrah’s Nebraska, is scheduled to open in March 2024.

WarHorse Gaming, a collaboration between the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, is developing WarHorse-branded casinos in Lincoln and Omaha. WarHorse also holds the development rights for South Sioux City’s Atokad.

WarHorse Lincoln launched its temporary casino last September. The permanent resort aims for a 2024 opening.

Iowa-based Elite Casino Resorts is developing the Fonner Park casino, named Grand Island Fonner Park. It opened a temporary casino in December. The permanent resort will be delayed until 2025.

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