Published: May 14, 2023

Nebraska's third racetrack casino will open next month in Columbus

Nebraska's third state-licensed casino will be opening in a month.

On Friday, the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission approved a gaming license for a temporary casino at Ag Park in Columbus.

Caesars Entertainment plans a 28,000-square-foot Harrah's casino and sportsbook with more than 500 slot machines and 14 table games along U.S. 81 on the northwest side of the city.

But in the meantime, it plans to open a temporary casino at the site of Columbus' existing horse racing track.

That casino is scheduled to open June 12, said Don Ostert, general manager for Harrah's Columbus Racing and Casino.

The casino will be open 9 a.m.-1 a.m. daily and will have 250 slot machines along with electronic table games.

It will join temporary casinos in Lincoln and Grand Island, which have been operating for several months.

Those casinos have pumped millions of dollars into state coffers in the form of casino taxes.

According to figures released this week by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission, WarHorse Casino in Lincoln and the Grand Island Casino Resort combined to pay just short of $1.4 million in gaming taxes last month.

While that's the second-highest month ever, it was down considerably from the record $1.55 million they paid last month.

WarHorse's total of about $849,000 was not only lower than March's record total, it also was lower than February. The Grand Island casino's tax bill was $544,000, second only to March's record $592,000.

The state's casino tax is 20% of gross revenue, which suggests the two casinos combined to make just under $7 million before expenses, more than $700,000 less than in March.

Overall, the Lincoln casino has generated nearly $6.2 million in taxes since it opened in late September, while the Grand Island Casino has contributed nearly $2.2 million in taxes since it opened in late December.

Both casinos are planning expansions, with the Lincoln casino set to add sports betting next month and the Grand Island casino set to add craps, roulette and blackjack tables, additional slot machines and other amenities later in the summer.

WarHorse also plans to start construction on its Omaha casino in late June or early July and hopes to have its main gaming floor open sometime in summer of 2024, said Lynne McNally, CEO of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which is a partner in the Lincoln and Omaha casinos with Ho-Chunk Inc.

The new Columbus racetrack and casino is likely to be the first full casino resort to open, as it is projected to be complete next spring.

WarHorse Lincoln has completed its new racing track at a cost of $2.9 million, McNally said, and will start a second phase of construction later this summer. Plans are for the full casino resort to be open in late 2024.

Construction on the permanent Grand Island casino won't start until September, after this year's State Fair, and it's not likely to be complete until late 2024 or early 2025.

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