Nebraska Casinos Poaching Play From Iowa, Gaming Revenue Reports Suggest

Posted on: December 6, 2023, 02:44h. 

Last updated on: January 22, 2024, 09:26h.

Nebraska casinos are operating in temporary facilities as their permanent resorts are built, but the provisional gaming spaces appear to be already keeping gaming money inside the Cornhusker State.

Nebraska casinos Iowa gaming revenue
A slot machine inside Harrah’s Columbus, NE Racing & Casino, a temporary gaming facility in Nebraska. Early gaming revenue realized in the Cornhusker State from its three temporary casinos suggests Iowa casinos are losing some market share. (Image: X)

Nebraskans approved a statewide ballot referendum that amended the state constitution to permit commercial casino gambling at the state’s six-horse racetracks during the 2020 election. Five of those properties have subsequently moved forward with casino projects, with three already conducting operations through temporary facilities.

The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission says gross gaming revenue (GGR) for the three provisional casinos from July 1 through October totaled a little more than $72 million.

While there are no year-on-year comparisons, as the first temporary casino — WarHorse Casino Lincoln — opened in September 2022, data suggests that the Nebraska casinos are poaching some play from neighboring Iowa.

Early Success

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s GGR tally for the state’s three casinos in Council Bluffs, which is located on the Missouri River across from Omaha, was $473.2 million for the state’s 2022 fiscal year (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022). Gaming income at Ameristar, Harrah’s, and Horseshoe for their 2023 fiscal campaigns fell 2.8% to $460 million.

We’ve been saying this all the time. The majority of revenue spent in those casinos in Council Bluffs comes from Nebraska residents. It comes directly out of Nebraska’s pocket, and therefore the tax revenue is being accumulated in Iowa,” said Lynne McNally, chief executive officer of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA).

Iowa is, of course, aware of Nebraska’s developing gaming industry. Iowa lawmakers in 2022 passed legislation that was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) prohibiting the state gaming commission from considering new casinos until at least July 1, 2024. Iowa’s current casinos supported the law.

Keeping Gaming Money in Nebraska

The 2020 referendum provided casino privileges to Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, Lincoln Race Course, Agricultural Park in Columbus, Fonner Park in Grand Island, Fairplay Park in Hastings, and the shuttered Atokad Downs in South Sioux City. All but Atokad Downs are redeveloping their horse racetracks to become casinos with slot machines, table games, and sports betting.

The state’s commercial gaming law allows casinos greenlit by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission to operate temporary gaming facilities during construction to help finance the undertakings. Provisional casinos are open in Lincoln, Grand Island, and Columbus. A temporary casino in Omaha offers sports betting and wagering on simulcast horse racing but no casino games.

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska partnered with McNally’s NHBPA to develop the casinos at the organization’s Lincoln Race Course and Horsemen’s Park in Omaha. The partners formed WarHorse Gaming. The partnership additionally includes casino development rights for Atokad Downs, though no plans have yet been announced.

Caesars Entertainment operates a temporary casino inside AgPark while it builds the track’s permanent Harrah’s casino resort northwest of the downtown Columbus area along Highway 81. To satisfy the 2020 gaming referendum, Caesars is building a new mile-long horse racetrack, which will be the longest in the state.

Elite Casino Resorts is redeveloping Fonner Park into a casino resort called Grand Island. The Iowa-based gaming firm is also working with Fairplay Park to relocate the track license to Ogallala, where it plans to build a racetrack and casino.