Caesars Gets License for Harrah’s Nebraska, Temporary Venue to Open Soon

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Nebraska’s third licensed casino is on course to open up next month in a temporary venue. Harrah’s brand owner Caesars Entertainment was approved for a Nebraska gaming license by the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission on Friday. That means a temporary Harrah’s casino will open as expected next month at the AG Park Racetrack in downtown Columbus.

The site will open June 12 with daily operating hours of 9 a.m. until 1 a.m., according to Harrah’s Columbus general manager Don Ostert, speaking to local outlet Victoria Advocate.

A permanent $75 million Harrah’s Nebraska Casino resort is planned four miles away on the outskirts of Columbus, and should open in 2024.

Related: Our expert review of Caesars online casino offering

40,000 Square Feet

The temporary Harrah’s site will have 250 slots and electronic table games, but no table games with live dealers. It will take up the vacant Ag Park racetrack event space.

The permanent Harrah’s Nebraska will be built on the site of the former Wishbones event center on Route 81, northeast of town. The 40,000-square-foot space will have 400 slots and virtual games, plus 20 live table games. It will have a Caesars sportsbook and lounge with self-service kiosks and a staffed booth.

It will also feature a Marriot International Hotel, built in conjunction with the local owners of the land where the resort will be built. Plus, there will be several as-yet unconfirmed shops and restaurants.

Horse Racing Tradition

Under the legalization framework in Nebraska, casinos must also ensure horse racing is conducted on site. In compliance, Caesars will build a one-mile horse racing track at the permanent Harrah’s Casino, which is also expected to open in 2024.

Horse racing in Nebraska is a big tradition, but local operators have been faced with declining interest and revenues in recent years. Four of the state’s racetracks now offer only one race a year. Ag Park, where the temporary Harrah’s venue will open next month, has only 11 live racing days scheduled for the rest of the year.

Columbus Exposition and Racing, Inc. is partnered with Caesars to develop the new racecourse at the permanent resort. It is cofinancing the project with a $75 million investment.

WarHorse Gaming

When legislators in the Cornhusker State legalized casinos in 2022, they pinned their hopes on legal casino gaming bringing people back to the racetracks.

Some locals were enthusiastic about horse racing’s prospects with casinos in the mix. “Without the casino gaming, I don’t know if we could have survived much longer,” said race horse owner Garald “Wally” Wollesen.

Others were unhappy with the decision. “They could have done this five years ago, but they had zero interest,” Lynne McNally, executive director of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, told 3NewsNow after legalization in 2022. “They couldn’t care less about racing.”

However, fast forward a year, and Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is investing in its own casino projects in the state. It partnered with the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska to found WarHorse Gaming, which will be building casinos (and racetracks) in Lincoln and Omaha.

Four other states have tied casino gaming to horse racing venues. New York state is in the process of opening its legal casino gaming market, where it previously only had limited racetrack casinos.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, casinos were only allowed on riverboats for many years. It has also recently begun to repeal that requirement.

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