Fonner Park Selects Development Firm to Build $100M Casino Resort

Posted on: April 9, 2021, 10:28h. 

Last updated on: June 30, 2021, 10:02h.

Fonner Park in Nebraska has selected a development firm headquartered in Iowa to transform the storied racetrack into a $100 million casino resort.   

Fonner Park Nebraska casino gambling
A race in 2019 at Fonner Park is seen. The horse race course in Nebraska will soon be overhauled into a $100 million casino resort. (Image: Thoroughbred Daily News)

Last November, voters in Nebraska passed three ballot initiatives to authorize casino gambling at the state’s six licensed horse racetracks. Fonner Park supported the referendums, and is moving forward with transitioning the facility into a full-scale gambling facility with slot machines and table games. 

Fonner Park announced this morning that Iowa-based Elite Casino Resorts has been hired to develop the destination that will be known as the Grand Island Casino Resort at Fonner Park. 

Elite owns and operates three casinos in Iowa — Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort, and Rhythm City Casino Resort. The company additionally owns Elite Sportsbook, which is operational at its three Iowa casinos and online in Colorado. 

Casino Details

The plan for Grand Island Casino Resort at Fonner Park features 650 slot machines, 20 table games, a VIP lounge with high-limit slots, and potentially a sportsbook if sports betting becomes legal in Nebraska. Elite says it will build a boutique hotel with 116 rooms, spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and various restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining. 

We’re Midwest guys, born and raised in Iowa. We’re not Vegas-type guys,” Dan Kehl, CEO of Elite Casino Resorts, told ABC 13 News in Nebraska. “We love being involved in our communities, using local contractors and vendors.

“It’s all about what gaming can do to boost the local economy. That’s where we excel,” Kehl added. 

Under the 2020 referendums, gross gaming revenue (GGR) at the casino racetracks will be taxed at 20 percent. Seventy percent will be allocated for the state’s Property Tax Credit Cash Fund, 25 percent will remain in the local communities where the casinos operate, and the remaining five percent will be split between the state’s General Fund and the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund. 

Proponents of the casino initiatives believe the state casinos will generate annual tax revenue of $80 million for the state and local communities. 

Ho-Chunk Grabs Market Share

The Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has partnered with Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, to build out three horse racetrack casinos. Through a newly formed entity called WarHorse Gaming LLC, Ho-Chunk will bring commercial gambling to Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, Lincoln Race Course, and Atokad in South Sioux City. 

WarHorse is spending $200 million on the Lincoln casino. Its plans call for more than 1,000 slot machines and 100 table games, a spa, restaurants and bars, and a 196-room hotel. The company additionally plans to invest $200 million at the Omaha track, but has not yet unveiled specifics. The Atokad casino project has also not been released. 

The Winnebago Tribe owns and operates WinnaVegas Casino Resort in Sloan, Ia. The tribe additionally owns two gaming facilities in Nebraska — Native Star Casino in Winnebago and Iron Horse Bar and Casino in Emerson.

Casino plans are still being considered at the Columbus Exposition and Racing track and Fairplay Park in Hastings.