Nebraska casinos poach from Iowa, revenue suggests


Published on: December 6, 2023 at 02:44 hours.

Last updated on: 5 December 2023 at 06:45 h.

Nebraska casinos are operating temporary facilities as their permanent resorts are built, but it appears the temporary gaming spaces are actually keeping gaming money within the Cornhusker State.

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

During the 2020 election, Nebraskans approved a statewide ballot referendum that amended the state constitution to allow commercial gambling at casinos at the state’s six horse racing tracks. Five 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 temporary casinos from July 1 through October totaled just over $72 million. Although there are no year-over-year comparisons, with the first pop-up casino β€” WarHorse Casino Lincoln β€” opening in September 2022, data suggests casinos in Nebraska are stealing some games from neighboring Iowa.

Early success

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission’s GGR 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). Ameristar, Harrah’s and Horseshoe’s gaming income for their fiscal 2023 campaigns fell 2.8% to $460 million.

We’ve said this all along. The majority of revenue spent at those casinos in Council Bluffs comes from Nebraska residents. β€œIt comes directly out of Nebraska’s pocket, thus accumulating tax revenue in Iowa,” said Lynn McNally, CEO of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA).

Iowa State is of course aware of the development of the gaming industry in Nebraska. Iowa lawmakers in 2022 passed legislation signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) that prohibits the state Gaming Commission from considering new casinos until at least July 1, 2024. The law was supported by existing casinos in Iowa.

Keep gaming money in nebraska

A 2020 referendum provided casino concessions for Horsemen Park in Omaha, Lincoln Raceway, Agricultural Park in Columbus, Foner Park in Grand Island, Fairplay Park in Hastings and the enclosed AutoCAD Downs in south Sioux City. All casinos except Atokad Downs are redeveloping their horse racing tracks into 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 amid construction to help finance projects. Pop-up casinos are open in Lincoln, Grand Island and Columbus. A pop-up casino in Omaha offers sports betting and simultaneous horse racing betting but no casino games.

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska has partnered with McNally’s NHBPA to develop casinos at the organization’s Lincoln Raceway and Horsemen Park in Omaha. Partners form WarHorse Gamin. The partnership also includes casino development rights for Atokad Downs, although no plans have been announced yet.

Caesars Entertainment operates a temporary casino inside AgPark while it builds a permanent Harrah’s Casino Resort for the track northwest of Columbus’ downtown area along Interstate 81. To satisfy the 2020 gaming referendum, Caesars is building a new mile-long horse racing track, 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 company is also working with Fairplay Park on transferring the track’s license to Ogallala where it plans to build a race track and casino.

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