Nebraska’s First Casino Table Games Launch at Grand Island Casino Resort

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Nebraska’s gambling landscape passed a historic first last week, as table games made their state debut at Grand Island Casino Resort.

The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission (NRGC) has given the green light to the casino and its operator, Elite Casino Resorts, to introduce table games at the venue. It marks a pivotal moment for Nebraska’s brick and mortar casinos, with many other operators potentially ready to follow suit.

This decision came after the commission’s meeting late last week, where they discussed the gambling expansions approved by voters in 2020.

“This is a big day for Grand Island,” said Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission Chairman Dennis Lee.

“I think it’s appropriate that Grand Island be the first because of its long history in this state with horse racing.”

Changing Landscape

Sharon Haselhoff, the regional vice president for Grand Island’s operator, Elite Casino Resorts, walked into the meeting feeling confident. She said she was targeting a same-day launch, pending the commission’s final approval.

She was shortly proved correct in a unanimous vote as part of a session lasting just 20 minutes.

The approved games include five blackjack tables, one roulette, one Texas hold ’em, and one craps table. Additionally, the casino will introduce 46 more slot machines, bringing the total count to 337.

Grand Island Casino also plans to take advantage of legal Nebraskan sports betting, which started this year. The WarHorse Casino in Lincoln launched the Cornhusker State’s first retail sportsbook in June.

“We hope to open the Elite Sportsbook with two kiosks and two sports windows to bet in-person,” Haselhoff said.

Another operator who may be looking at the introduction of table games is Caesars Entertainment. It recently launched its temporary Nebraska venue in Columbus while it builds the $75 million permanent Harrah’s Columbus Casino and Resort venue (and racetrack).

The temporary venue opened with electronic table games, but no live options, because of Nebraska’s previously existing rules. Now that they have been overturned, its almost certain Caesars will look to add some at its full resort venue when it launches in 2024.

Across the U.S., casino table games are nowhere near as popular with gamblers or profitable with casinos as slots. However, launching with live table games does add a certain element of prestige when launching a casino resort.

Racetrack Developments on the Horizon

In addition to the introduction of table games, the NRGC has approved the initial steps for Elite Casino Resorts to partner with Nebraska’s Hastings Exposition and Racing for a racetrack development in the West of the state.

The commission has greenlit a 12-week, $48,000 market study with Innovation Group, which could pave the way for a new racetrack in Ogallala.

This move comes after Hastings Exposition & Racing Inc. announced plans to transfer its racing license during the summer. The law allows Hastings a one-time license transfer from one of the six “original” racetrack locations, in this case, moving from Adams County to Keith County.

It originally wanted to build a new racing casino just a few miles away from Grand Island, but found its proposal unpopular with local residents and politicians.

Hastings now thinks its new location could provide an economic boost for an underserved area of the state.

“We don’t believe there’s any reasonable argument that it can, in any way, be detrimental by moving that far away into a brand new market and giving the folks in western Nebraska — who often get passed over — an opportunity to be a part of something so exciting,” Brian Jorde, a representative for the Hastings company, told the commission.

The new racetrack is strategically planned to be nearly 200 miles away from the existing one, laying the foundation for the future Lake Mac Casino Resort and Racetrack. This 174-acre site is envisioned to be a significant “tourism destination” because of its proximity to Lake McConaughy and states like Wyoming and Colorado.

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