Harrah’s Nebraska this week received the state’s blessing to begin construction on its temporary and permanent casinos. Developer Caesars Entertainment plans to open the gaming venues in March 2023 and March 2024.
The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission (NRGC) on Wednesday voted in favor of issuing Harrah’s Nebraska a provisional gaming license. The concession will become active once the gaming spaces are built and the state gaming regulators sign off on each building’s operations.
Caesars is now cleared to proceed with building a temporary casino at the Platte County Agricultural Park on the east side of Columbus. The permanent Harrah’s casino will be built northwest of the downtown area at the former Wishbones events site center, which closed in May 2021 and was demolished earlier this year.
With this approval, we will start within the next couple of weeks depending on weather,” said Joe Morris, Caesars’ senior vice president of racetrack casino operations.
Nebraskans passed a ballot referendum during the November 2020 election that authorized the state’s licensed horse racetracks to become casinos with slot machines, table games, and sports betting.
Columbus qualified for a casino through the state’s 2022 legalization of commercial gaming because of its horse racetrack facility at Ag Park. Live racing has greatly declined over the years, with the Columbus track scheduling only 11 days of live racing in 2023. But the city’s investment in keeping the track and simulcasting facility open over the years is finally set to pay off with the Harrah’s development.
Harrah’s plans to open its temporary casino inside Ag Park’s downstairs exhibit hall. Caesars says the building only needs minor renovations to become a temporary casino that will feature about 250 slot machines.
The permanent Harrah’s Nebraska casino will be about four air miles across town from Ag Park. To satisfy the racing component of the 2020 gaming law, Harrah’s Nebraska will build a new one-mile horse racetrack and hold live racing there beginning in 2024.
The $75 million project will result in a new structure equipped with a 40,000-square-foot casino and sportsbook with more than 400 slots and 20 table games. The sportsbook will be staffed with on-site oddsmakers plus self-service wagering kiosks. Nebraska’s sports betting law limits sports wagering to retail operations. No online bets are allowed.
An entity called Convergence, LLC, is the owner of the land where Harrah’s Nebraska will be built. Convergence will construct and own a forthcoming hotel at the casino. Convergence has contracted with Marriott International to operate the hotel once it’s ready for guests in 2024.
Finally, Harrah’s Nebraska will feature several restaurants and retail shops.
Columbus Exposition and Racing, Inc., chose Caesars Entertainment as its casino development partner in July 2021. The nonprofit that is dedicated to the advancement of horse racing is cofinancing the $75 million permanent casino, though Caesars will bankroll the majority of the budget.
Casinos in Nebraska are required to share 20% of their gross gaming revenue with the state. The bulk of the tax income will be used to support the state’s Property Tax Credit Fund.
WarHorse Casino Lincoln was the first legal commercial casino to open in Nebraska in September. WarHorse Gaming, a partnership between the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA), is building casinos in Lincoln and Omaha, with another casino for South Sioux City set for a later date.
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