With Nebraska voters solidly approving Las Vegas-style gambling at the state’s horse tracks during Tuesday’s election, Ho-Chunk Inc. says it is ready to spend $300M to build three casinos at horse tracks in South Sioux City, Omaha, and Lincoln.
Ho-Chunk, which bought Atokad Park at South Sioux City in 2016, joined forces with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protection Association to collect enough signatures to place the measures in the ballot of Tuesday’s US Elections. They were successful this time around, after failing to do so two years ago. The horsemen’s group will partner with WarHorse in managing the proposed Nebraska casinos.
Said Mike Newin, CEO and GM of Horseman’s Park Lincoln Race track:
“The casinos are going to employ over 4600 people, but we can’t turn a slot machine on or take a sports wager of playing a blackjack game until the gaming commission is established and regulations are ready to go.”
Finalizing the details and passing the legislation will take some time. But that’s just formality. Getting the approval was the biggest hurdle. And it passed that with flying colors.
65% of voters said YES to three ballot initiatives that would amend Nebraska’s constitution to allow casinos as the state’s six licensed horse tracks, with some the revenues to be collected from the casinos going to property tax relief and local governments.
Proponents of the measures have long argued that Nebraskans cross the state border to gamble at casinos in Iowa and other nearby states, and spend over $500M in doing so. By allowing Nebraska casinos at the state’s race tracks, that revenue can be captured and its benefits enjoyed by the state.
But Gov. Pete Ricketts, former Nebraska Football team coach Tom Osborne, and other opponents of the initiative warned that the approval of Nebraska casinos would lead to more bankruptcies, crime, and other social ills that are associated with gambling addiction.
Ready to Move Forward
Ho-Chunk Inc, which is the economic entity of the Winnebago Tribe, revealed that they have already formed a new group called WarHorse Gaming LLC, which will manage the proposed casinos. According to Ho-Chunk CEO Lance Morgan, WarHorse was just formed this week.
If all goes well, Morgan said that construction will commence next spring. The tracks in Lincoln and Omaha already have facilities and could start gaming after six months. On the other hand, Morgan estimates that it would take around nine months to build a Nebraska casino is Atokad, which only has a race track right now.
Additional live racing dates will be added at the race tracks as part of the expanded gambling plan. In recent years, Ho-Chunk held just one date of live racing at Atokad which is the minimum to retain a state license. However, with the expected boom in gambling which will be brought about by the Nebraska casinos, they are expanding the schedule.