Officials hoping to break ground on Omaha casino by late spring

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Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 10:18 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Many are anxious to find out when they’ll be able to gamble at a casino in Nebraska. Officials tell 6 News the process is slow, but it’s coming.

“It’s going to be a massive undertaking, there will be a hotel in Lincoln, the facility in Omaha will look much different than it looks now but I think Nebraskans will be very, very thrilled with the end result, and we can’t wait for them to open,” says Lynne McNally with Nebraska Horsemen’s.

But before construction begins, existing racetracks need their gaming licenses, and before they get their gaming licenses, the rules and regulations for gaming needs to be approved.

Those rules passed their first hurdle in December: They were written and approved by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission.

“Those rules are then sent to the Attorney General’s office and they’re currently in the Attorney General’s office, and we expect to see some feedback or response from the AG office in the next couple of weeks,” says Tom Sage, the director of the Racing and Gaming Commission.

After the rules and regulations are approved by the attorney general, they head to the Governor’s desk.

After approval from Ricketts, the rules head to their final destination: the Secretary of State’s office. After five days there, they take effect.

“I really think our rules are very good, they were supported by a number of anti-gaming groups,” says Sage. “So, I have really good feelings that we’ll get a good outcome throughout the process.”

Once the rules take effect, the Racing and Gaming Commission will then focus on the gaming applications for the six existing racetracks in Omaha, Lincoln, Columbus, South Sioux City, Grand Island, and Hastings.

Sage says they’ve also received applications for new tracks and casinos in Bellevue, Gering, North Platte, York, and Norfolk.

However, they can’t grant any gaming licenses or approve any new tracks until the rules and regulations are fully in effect.

“It always takes longer than you think it should, but we have to keep in mind this is creating an entirely new industry in the state of Nebraska,” says McNally.

“I know the citizens and the people of Nebraska are frustrated, I hear it every day, ‘when are we going to get a casino? No, we’re not going to get them, people are going to stop them,’ so on and so forth,” says Sage. “I would tell the citizens of the state and people that voted: it’s coming. I know it’s slow, it’s really quite a process that we have to go through.”

Sage reminds the community that since the ballot initiative passed in 2020, and Governor Ricketts signed it in May of 2021, they’ve had to create a new agency, hire staff for positions that never existed before, create applications for employees and gaming operators, and much more.

McNally still hopes to break ground on the new casino at Horsemen’s Park in Omaha by late spring. Ten months after construction begins, she says a transitional facility will be open with gaming machines like slots to be used until the entire Warhorse facility is complete. That’s expected to take two years from the day of the groundbreaking.

Lincoln’s facility will likely move at a faster pace because the facility is newer. McNally says Horsemen’s will be completely gutted. A transitional facility will open in Lincoln about four or five months after ground-breaking.

“I know that it’s taking longer than any of us would want, but, it’s a function of time more than anything slowing down the process or anything like that,” she adds. “So I think Nebraskans just need to be patient and I think they’re going to be thrilled with the end result, I think it’s going to be wonderful.”

Horsemen’s partnership with Ho Chunk Inc, which will construct the casinos, began close to six years ago - long before sports betting had the footprint it has today. McNally says she hopes by the end of the year, they’ll be able to offer it to the community.

“I think it’s all evolving as a process and just like everything else, once we get rules and regulations passed, hoping to offer something in the fall so that when football season starts again in the fall, people can have a place where they can place a wager. we’re really looking forward to that.”

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