Omaha Casino Construction to Begin Late Summer 2022, Nebraska Tribe Hopes

Posted on: May 31, 2022, 11:27h. 

Last updated on: May 31, 2022, 11:38h.

The Omaha casino project slated for Horsemen’s Park plans to begin construction on the $220 million overhaul sometime this summer.

Omaha casino Horsemen's Park Nebraska gambling
A busy Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, Ne., is seen in March of 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shuttered its operations. The Nebraska racetrack is set to become a casino sometime in 2023. (Image: Paulick Report)

Nebraska voters legalized commercial casino gambling through a ballot referendum during the 2020 election. The outcome allows the state’s six horse racetracks to become full-scale casinos with slot machines, table games, and sports betting.

The Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) has partnered with the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and its economic development arm Ho-Chunk Inc. to turn the racinos in Omaha, Lincoln, and South Sioux City into casinos. Ho-Chunk Inc. and NHBPA subsequently formed the entity WarHorse Gaming to handle the investments, and eventually manage the casinos’ operations.

WarHorse Gaming told the Omaha World-Herald this week that the company hopes to begin construction on the Horsemen’s Park casino by late summer. But the time line is ultimately in the hands of state officials, who continue to finalize regulatory conditions.

The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission approved its casino rules in December. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) signed off on them last month.

Licensing Fee Remains

The major tasks the state Gaming Commission must finalize are the licensing and annual assessment costs that each racetrack casino will be responsible to pay the state. Last fall, the gaming agency proposed a one-time $1 million up-front licensing toll. But other regulatory fees remain undetermined.

The Gaming Commission is set to deliberate such rates at its meeting this week on June 2. Once those fees are determined, the six horse racetracks will be cleared to submit their casino applications with detailed blueprints of the plans to transform the pari-mutuel facilities into commercial casinos.

The state of Nebraska is launching an entirely new industry. They want to get it right from the get-go,” Drew Niehaus, a WarHorse Gaming spokesperson, told the Omaha World-Herald. “It’s been a long process … but we fully support the state taking its time.”

Gaming Commissioners had hoped to finalize licensing and regulatory costs at its May 6 meeting, but delayed the vote until next month.

Two-Month Application Review

The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission has said that once license and regulatory costs are approved and the application period begins, the agency will require 30 to 60 days to review and approve each submission.

Assuming the commission ratifies the fee structure on Thursday and WarHorse submits its Omaha casino plan the next day, the state would be expected to approve the application by August 3.

Niehaus says when construction begins at Horsemen’s Park, the venue’s current simulcasting operations will be moved to temporary trailers on the infield. The Horsemen’s Park overhaul includes a complete renovation of the existing complex, plus approximately 67,000 square feet of new floor space.

Once completed, expected around early summer 2023, the permanent casino will accommodate 1,200 slot machines, an unspecified number of table games, and a sportsbook. A concert venue and numerous restaurants and bars are also in the plan.

All six Nebraska horse racetracks are moving forward with plans to pivot to casinos. But Horsemen’s Park is, to date, the largest proposed project.

Caesars Entertainment has been brought in for the Columbus racetrack. The casino giant plans to spend $75 million to renovate the property into a Harrah’s destination with 400 slots, 20 tables, and sports betting.

Fonner Park has contracted Elite Casino Resorts to build and operate a casino with 650 slots, 20 tables, and a sportsbook. The Chickasaw Nation is hoping to renovate Fairplay Park into a casino in Hastings. But city officials shot down their proposal in March.

Finally, along with its Omaha casino, WarHorse plans to build casinos at the Lincoln Race Course and South Sioux City track. Details of those two undertakings have not yet been unveiled.