Fonner Park Temporary Casino Opens at Future $100M Grand Island Resort

By | December 28, 2022

The temporary casino at Nebraska’s Fonner Park horse racetrack opened Tuesday inside the concourse at the storied thoroughbred facility. Fonner Park is located in Grand Island about 80 miles west of Lincoln.

Fonner Park Nebraska casino Grand Island
Fonner Park and Elite Casino Resorts officials cut the red ribbon on the opening of the temporary gaming facility at Grand Island Casino Resort. The Nebraska horse racetrack is betting big on commercial gambling. (Image: The Grand Island Independent)

Known as Nebraska’s “Springtime Tradition,” Fonner Park began racing in 1954. Gus and Emma Fonner donated the land on which the track sits. Thoroughbred racing in Nebraska took a huge hit when Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha ceased operations in 1995, but Fonner Park pressed on.

Fonner Park has since hosted Nebraska’s richest annual horse race — the $75K Bosselman Pump & Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes. But with racing declining at Fonner Park and the state’s five other horse racetracks in recent decades, Nebraska voters in November 2020 provided the horsemen with a lifeline by way of casino gambling.

Each of the state’s six horse racetracks qualified to overhaul their facilities into full-fledged Las Vegas-style casinos with slot machines, table games, and sports betting as a result of the 2020 ballot referendum. The vote amended the Nebraska Constitution to permit commercial gambling.

The gaming regulatory law the state subsequently passed allows for temporary casinos to open during the construction of the permanent resorts.

Grand Island Casino Opening

Fonner Park is owned and operated by the Hall County Livestock Improvement Association. The group has partnered with Iowa-based Elite Casino Resorts to redevelop Fonner Park into a casino resort called Grand Island.

Grand Island Casino Resort is a $100 million undertaking that once completed will include a 37,000-square-foot casino floor with 650 slot machines, 20 table games, and a sportsbook. The facility will additionally feature four restaurants, a show space, and a 116-room boutique hotel.

The project also includes a spa and salon, gift shop, indoor and outdoor pools, and a 400-spot parking garage. Construction is set to begin early next year.

Local gamblers don’t need to wait until Grand Island’s expected 2025 completion to spin a slot machine as the property opened its temporary casino inside the Fonner Park concourse this week.

The temporary gaming facility comes with 300 slot machines and parimutuel horse wagering kiosks. Sports betting kiosks will be added once the state gives licensed sportsbooks the go-ahead, which is expected next year. The interim casino plans to add a small allotment of table games next year, too.

Temporary Casino Regulations

Nebraska’s commercial gaming law allows for casinos to open temporary gaming facilities while their permanent resorts are being built.

WarHorse Casino Lincoln opened Nebraska’s first interim gaming venue in September. Fonner Park’s Grand Island Casino was second when it opened this week.

A third temporary casino is expected to open in March in Columbus. That’s where Caesars Entertainment is spending $75 million to overhaul Horsemen’s Park into Harrah’s Nebraska.

Regardless of whether a casino is temporary or permanent, licensed gaming floors in Nebraska must share 20% of their gross gaming revenue with the state. State officials plan to use the new revenue source to better support the state’s Property Tax Credit Fund.

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