Win for Ho-Chunk and Horsemen’s association

Nebraska judge dismisses Big Red Keno lawsuit, clears way for WarHorse casino project at Lincoln racetrack

Rendering for WarHorse Casino in Lincoln, Nebraska.
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A Nebraska judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by gaming operator Big Red Keno over who gets rights to develop Lincoln's upcoming casino, Nebraska Examiner reports. Monday’s ruling also greenlights the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association to continue its partnership with the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska for the proposed project.

“We actually chose our partner in 2015, and we’re going to stick with the partner who will lead us to the greatest success,” Lynne McNally, the CEO of the horsemen’s association, said Tuesday, according to the cited source. Their partnership with the tribe will see the Lincoln Race Course expanding to full casino gaming.

Steve Mossman, a Lincoln attorney who represented Big Red Keno, said the company is currently evaluating its options, among them the decision to appeal. The keno operator first filed its lawsuit in June 2021, against the horsemen’s association, the horse track, past operator Omaha Exposition and Racing, and Ho-Chunk Inc. -the business arm of the Winnebago Tribe- and its WarHorse Gaming division.

Big Red Keno alleged that it had the exclusive rights to provide expanded gambling at the Lincoln horse track, and claimed that Omaha Exposition and Racing was reneging on an operating agreement granting the company rights to operate any expanded gaming there through 2033.

In the lawsuit, filed in Lancaster County District Court, Big Red Keno cited a contract dating back to 2013. "If additional gambling activities are legalized in the future and you wish to offer those activities at the premises, we agree to use our best efforts to make those activities available to you on mutually agreed terms,” part of the agreement said.

Big Red Keno asked the court not to permit anyone except the company to offer, supply or install gambling activities at the premises "under any circumstances" before 2033, and that Big Red Keno be compensated for the monetary losses.

Lancaster County District Judge Robert Otte has now dismissed the lawsuit in a 14-page ruling that says Omaha Exposition and Racing lacked the authority to grant the exclusive agreement under its lease on the Lincoln racetrack

However, Otte has also ruled that the keno operator has a valid claim against Omaha Exposition and Racing for damages, and has provided Big Red Keno with 30 days to file an amended lawsuit on that specific issue.

Ho-Chunk Inc and the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association announced plans to build a $220-million hotel, casino and event center at the Lincoln site in late 2020 after Nebraska voters voted to allow casino gambling at racetracks in November that year. The horsemen association owns the Lincoln land.

The WarHorse Casino in Lincoln calls for a development set to cost about $220 million, which will provide approximately 230 construction-related jobs, according to estimates released last year. The impact of the project once fully operational has been forecasted at $141 million in annual gaming revenue and 682 jobs.

Plans for the Lincoln location shared in May last year include: a live horse racing track; a five-story, 196-room hotel with balconies overlooking the finish line of the track; indoor entertainment space; an event center; and a multilevel parking deck. The venue will boast a contemporary and modern design, and will have table games, slot machines and sports betting.