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Nebraska issues gaming license to Omaha WarHorse Casino

On Wednesday, the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission issued a gaming operator license for WarHorse Gaming Casino. The entertainment and racing complex is located at the Omaha Horsemen’s Park and is expected to begin operations in 2024.

WarHorse Gaming Casino is under construction and is one of the two gaming projects being constructed in Nebraska by the Winnebago Tribe, along with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA).

The decision to award the casino a license was not unanimous. The Nebraska commission voted 5-1 in favor of issuing an operating license to the parent company of the organization, Warhorse Gaming Omaha, LLC. Commissioner Jeffrey Galyen notably criticized the Ho-Chunk-owned complex’s license application.

The CEO of Ho-Chunk, Lance Morgan, as well as Lynne McNally, the Nebraska Horsemen Benevolent and Protective Association CEO, initially requested the license issuance on Wednesday because it was a critical factor in acquiring necessary funding. The funds are integral to the establishment’s expansion and renovation, which started earlier this year in July.

Ho-Chunk, Inc. is the primary sponsor of WarHorse Gaming and is investing $700 million to aid the construction of commercial casinos. These gaming venues would be located at three different NHBPA racetrack facilities.

Besides renovating Horsemen’s Park to WarHorse Casino Omaha, the financing will transform the Lincoln Race Course into WarHorse Casino Lincoln. The changes will include a five-story parking garage and over 1,400 gaming positions. Ho-Chunk also has plans to redevelop the closed-down Atokad Downs located in South Sioux City.

WarHorse began building its casinos in Lincoln and Omaha in July. The redevelopments of the venues are expected to revive horse racing in Nebraska and produce new streams for tax revenues.

Nebraskans originally authorized racetrack casinos in 2020 via a ballot referendum. The recently amended constitution for the state now allows licensed horse racing facilities to have commercial casino gambling with table games, sports betting, and slot machines.

The tax revenue generated by the forthcoming gaming industry in Nebraska will be reserved for property tax relief. Ho-Chunk Inc. CEO Morgan revealed that the company was excited to have come this far and could not wait for what the future had in store for them.

“It’s very exciting to have reached this point, but even more exciting knowing what the future holds for Omaha and the state. Nebraskans made their thoughts clear in the 2020 election. We want to keep our money in our state,” Morgan said.

The only dissenting vote against the WarHorse Omaha license issuance was Galyen. The commissioner criticized the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission for apparently rushing the organization’s application.

The real estate and commercial realty law attorney questioned whether the commission was authorized to issue the gaming license.

“This issue could not be clearer in my mind. More work needs to be done. It is not ready today,” Galyen said.

Galyen also talked about the real estate uses and raised concerns about a possible altering of the racetrack. He accused the commission of granting the license before reviewing the plans.

McNally responded to the commissioner and revealed that WarHorse Casino was an important factor in ensuring the improvement of the horseracing industry in Nebraska. Due to simulcasting, the sector has seen a significant decline in revenue over the past years. “Without the casino, none of this is possible,” she said.

Galyen’s fellow commissioners also seemed to feel differently and voted in support. Commission Chairman Dennis Lee explained that the Nebraska commission was able to issue the licenses with a number of conditions. He also said that any more delay would be tantamount to the commission abandoning its duties.

“I think if we did not take action, we will not be complying with our duty as commissioners,” Lee noted.

The vote for Warhorse’s license issuance was 5-1, with Galyen as the only dissenting count. Commissioner Shane Greckel overall abstained from voting.

Ho-Chunk Inc. is the economic development sector of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. WarHorse Gaming was formed by the corporation in partnership with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

WarHorse Omaha will reportedly take around 18 months to construct, with August 2023 set as the target date of completion. The gaming venue will have a Sportsbook, 20 table games, and 1,200 slot machines. The Omaha casino will also have several dining options.

The gaming venue will be constructed close to 63rd and Q streets. WarHorse Omaha’s project site will be beside a city public bus line, a move the company officials hoped would appeal to future workers of the establishment.

“We want to be able to hire everybody that wants to work. We have the means to help you get here,” McNally said.

The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission granted provincial licenses to WarHorse for the company to open gaming venues in Lincoln and Omaha. WarHorse Lincoln will have a Sportsbook, 100 table games, and 1,100 slot machines. The establishment is the bigger of the casino developments and will include a 200-room hotel.

The Lincoln casino opened a temporary casino in September with 430 slot machines as well as simulcast racing. The opening of the temporary WarHorse Lincoln in September marked the first slot machine pull in Nebraska.

The grand opening for the historic event brought gaming enthusiasts in the hundreds who sought to test their luck in the new establishment.

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