Caesars Entertainment Strikes Deal to Build Casino at Nebraska Racetrack

By J.W. Paine in Casino
| July 6, 2021 9:24 am PDT

Thanks to a new state law making it possible for horse racing tracks to offer casino gambling as well as in-person sports betting, Caesars Entertainment has made a deal with a horse racing track in Columbus, Nebraska, to build a new casino.

Columbus Exposition and Racing, which operates the Columbus Horse Racing at Ag Park, made the deal with Caesars to allow construction of a Harrah’s Casino on the track’s property.

The proposed 40,000 square-foot casino will feature a sportsbook, more than 400 slots, and 20 table games — as well as retail space and at least one restaurant. In addition, Caesars intends to resurface Columbus Horse Racing’s existing track, first built in 1942.

The project will cost an estimated $75 million and is expected to reach completion in 2022.

The Law Brings New Opportunity to Nebraska Wagering

The 2020 election brought so much change that observers may be pardoned for not noticing the passage of three separate voter initiatives in Nebraska that opened — for the first time — the state’s six horse racing tracks to the possibility of offering casino gambling as well as sportsbooks.

The first initiative (429) opened wagering at the state’s horse racing tracks, while the second initiative (430) permitted casino gambling at those tracks and established the Nebraska Gaming Commission to regulate those operations. The third initiative (431) implemented taxes on the revenue derived.

All three referenda were passed in 2020 by Nebraska voters by a two-to-one margin, with the gaming/gambling initiatives getting a nearly 65% approval from the voters. The tax initiative was even more popular, garnering 68.6% voter approval.

Of the 20% annual tax on gross gambling revenue, the state’s Property Tax Credit Cash Fund will receive the lion’s share (70%), with the various counties hosting licensed racetracks receiving (25%).

The remainder goes to the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund (2.5%) and the state’s General Fund (2.5%).

Those voter-approved initiatives resulted in the state’s unicameral legislature developing LB561, a bill amending the state’s constitution to conform to the initiatives, and that bill was signed into law May 25, 2021, by Governor John Peter Ricketts.

The new law does not permit mobile sports wagering (that was stripped out of LB561 earlier this year) nor does it permit college sports wagering in which at least one of the teams competing is from a Nebraska school.

Not the Only Nebraska Track to Benefit

At least three other horse racing tracks in Nebraska will sprout casinos thanks to the new law.

WarHorse Gaming, LLC, which already operates the Iron Horse Bar & Casino in Emerson and the Native Star Casino in Winnebago, is partnering with three other Nebraska tracks to add casinos to each track’s gaming opportunities: the Lincoln (Nebraska) Race Course, Omaha’s Horsemen’s Park, in Omaha and South Sioux City’s Atokad Downs.

The renovations and new construction WarHorse plans for the Omaha track alone are more than $200 million.

It will feature renovation and enhancement to the track’s existing entrance, an expanded gaming floor, horse racing simulcasts, new sports book, and several onsite restaurants.

WarHorse is a gaming management enterprise owned by Ho-Chunk, Inc., itself an “Economic Development Corporation” owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.



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