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Odds Favor Western Nebraska Racetrack and Casino Development

Study Hurts Bellevue, Helps Ogallala Racetrack and Gaming Projects

LINCOLN- A new report prepared by the Innovation Group out of New Orleans has determined that Nebraska needs no additional horse tracks beyond those that already licensed. The report was prepared as a requirement by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission to study Nebraska horse racing and casino markets and to study the socioeconomic impact of horse racing and casino gambling throughout the state.

In 2020, voters approved a ballot initiative linking casino development to racing licenses, meaning that any casino development must win approval from the state for a racing license. There are currently six existing racing tracks in Nebraska, and they offered 53 race days in 2022. Only Fonner Park in Grand Island offers a full racing schedule, with 42 race days in 2023, according to the report. Nebraska state law says that commissioners must consider both socioeconomic and market impacts when during the approval phase of new licenses. The law also requires the commission to deny an application for a racetrack or casino license if the approval would be "detrimental" to the racing or gambling market "that exists across the state", based on market studies and analysis.

The report is bad news for a proposed race track and casino in Bellevue. The report concluded that the opening of the facility would boost overall projected gambling revenues in the state, but would cut into the revenue of existing Nebraska racetrack casinos, particularly the WarHorse Casino, currently under construction at Horseman's Park in Omaha. According to the study, the Bellevue facility would generate around $60.7 million in revenue, of which $38.5 million would come from other operators. The study estimates that the Omaha and Lincoln WarHorse casinos would lose at least $27.4 million from the Bellevue operation. If Bellevue gets their casino, the City of Bellevue and Sarpy County would gain tax revenues while the City of Omaha and Douglas County would lose tax revenues. While officials at WarHorse say that the study effectively puts an end to the Bellevue facility, officials at the Bellevue facility note that the state commission could approve the new license if it is not detrimental to the state's overall market, and not whether or not it would affect a particular casino.

For those in Western Nebraska, the report seems to help pave the way of the transfer of the Hastings Exposition and Racing license to Ogallala as part of a proposed casino development on Interstate 80. Commissioners gave a conditional approval for the transfer in November, pending the outcome of the study results. The report said that moving Hastings' license to Ogallala would improve the the market potential for the facility while minimizing market-overlap with the five other existing licenses. The study indicated the Ogallala transfer would not take away revenue from existing license holders while generating an estimated $18 million in gambling revenue to the state. The proposed racing track in Ogallala would race quarter horses. Racetrack casinos have also been proposed in Gering and in Kimball. Western Nebraska facilities would likely not cut into market share of existing license holders as almost all are located in the eastern half of the state.

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