Winnebago Tribe in Line to Open Nebraska’s First Casino in Omaha by Next Spring

  • WarHorse Gaming expects casino groundbreaking ceremony in mid-to-late summer
  • The Winnebago’s casino could then open to the public ten months later
  • Project involves renovations to Horsemen’s Park site, plus 67,000 square feet of new construction
  • Potential casino operators in Nebraska are likely to start submitting applications June 3
  • The temporary Omaha casino will feature 800 gambling machines, gambling tables
Omaha map
It’s been a long-time coming, but Nebraskans could have their first retail casino up and running by spring 2023. [Image:]

Groundbreaking in summer

The glacier-like progress of sports betting in Nebraska ever since it was legalized in the state in May 2021 has been roused from its torpor after the Winnebago Tribe revealed plans to break ground on an Omaha casino this summer.

The Omaha World-Herald on Monday cited a representative from WarHorse Gaming — a sub-brand of the Winnebago’s business arm Ho-Chunk Inc. — as giving mid-to-late summer as a likely start for the casino’s groundbreaking ceremony.

the Omaha casino should be rolled out to the public ten months after groundbreaking

The WarHorse Gaming representative, Drew Niehaus, said the Omaha casino should be rolled out to the public ten months after groundbreaking.

The Winnebago call the Omaha project a “dynamic casino, racing and entertainment complex.” If the tribe’s plans come to fruition next spring, they will be proud owner-operators of Nebraska’s first-ever legal retail casino, a hope that emerged via a bill prompted by a voter-backed measure in 2020, which sought to expand casino gaming offerings in the state.

Warhorse Gaming’s plan for the tribe’s casino project involves major renovations to the existing Horsemen’s Park site in Omaha. Added to that is 67,000 square feet in new construction.

Wheels finally turning

Regulatory red tape has delayed any casino construction in Nebraska in the 18 months since retail sports betting got approved. According to the World-Herald, WarHorse’s intention was to break ground on the Horseman’s Park site by summer 2021 and have a fully functional casino built by September 2022.

Things, however, took a turn for the better in December, when the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission (NRGC) formally gave the nod to rules and regulations for casino gambling. Governor Pete Ricketts then signed off the regulations earlier this month.

the NRGC expects to approve the fee structure at a June 2 meeting

Before the Winnebago, or any other potential casino operator in Nebraska for that matter, can lay a single brick, the NRGC still needs to approve an application fee structure for the operators. Executive vice president of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Lynne McNally, told a media source that the NRGC expects to approve the fee structure at a June 2 meeting.

Once the fees get approved, potential casino operators could submit applications pretty much simultaneously, with a processing time of 30 to 60 days. The NRGC will make room in its monthly meeting slots to approve each application.

What’s coming to Omaha?

The World-Herald cites Niehaus as saying when building begins at Horseman’s Park, that the “simulcasting will be moved to temporary trailers on the infield to continue operations.”

The Warhorse Gaming representative added that once the renovations to Horseman’s Park are complete, “a transitional facility will be set up with roughly 800 gambling machines.”

Once the permanent casino is up and at full capacity, it will include gambling tables, over 1,200 gaming machines, and live and simulcast racing.

“It’s been a long process to get here, but we fully support the state taking its time,” Niehaus said.

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