License now approved

Nebraska's second casino to open next week through temporary facility at Grand Island's Fonner Park

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Nebraska is inching closer to the opening of its second land-based casino after the Racing and Gaming Commission unanimously approved an operator license for Grand Island Casino Resort and Fonner Park on Wednesday. A temporary property at Grand Island's Fonner Park horse racing track is set to open its doors to the public next week.

“This afternoon was very significant for the history of Fonner Park,” Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak said, as reported by KSNB. Doors will open at the temporary facility on Tuesday, December 27 at noon following a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The transitory property is located in the concourse of Fonner Park, adjacent to the Nebraska Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.

“We are excited to partner with Fonner Park, which held its first race almost 70 years ago,” Dan Kehl, CEO of Elite Casino Resorts said. “It’s very fitting that our temporary casino surrounds the Racing Hall of Fame, starting a new chapter in Fonner history. I thank the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission for their leadership and diligence in the process and approval.”

The temporary casino will feature approximately 300 slot machines, horse betting kiosks, and a snack bar. Guests will be required to present a valid ID to gain entry to the casino in accordance with Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission regulations. The casino will be open Sunday through Thursday 8 a.m. until midnight, Friday and Saturday 8 a.m. until 3 a.m.

Grand Island Casino Resort (rendering)

The temporary casino will operate until the full resort is completed. Construction on the permanent resort is expected to begin in the fall of 2023 and will feature 650 slot machines, 20 table games, a sports book, a variety of dining options including top-floor dining at Ruthie’s Steak & Seafood, live weekend entertainment on the show lounge, sports bar, a 116-room boutique hotel, a salon and spa, gift shop, and indoor and outdoor pool with an expansive deck.

Kotulak further said casino gambling has become crucial for the existence of thoroughbred horse racing. He added that people who approved expanded gambling at horse tracks in 2020 are seeking property tax relief, and that the Grand Island Casino Resort is hoping to follow suit with what Nebraskans are seeing with WarHorse in Lincoln.

“My mission is to provide for the horses, horsemen, staff and the guests of Fonner Park. The introduction of casino revenue puts us on a path of regenerating a once thriving Thoroughbred racing industry in Nebraska,” stated Kotulak.

Grand Island Casino Resort (rendering)

WarHorse's Lincoln casino became in September the first land-based casino to open in the state of Nebraska through a temporary facility. In its first 10 weeks of operation, it generated nearly $10 million in revenue, resulting in almost $2 million in taxes paid to state, county and local governments.

Temporary casinos also are planned in Omaha, where WarHorse is developing another casino, and in Columbus, where Caesars Entertainment is partnering on a project. However, the temporary Omaha casino likely won't open until late spring or summer.

For its part, Caesars wants to open a temporary casino with 250 slot machines as soon as possible at the existing horse track at Ag Park in Columbus, but it is waiting for a ruling from the Attorney General's office on whether it can apply for a license for the temporary casino and then transfer that permit to its new resort proposed for across town, reports Lincoln Journal Star.

Interior of the temporary WarHorse Lincoln casino

While Columbus casino officials had hoped to learn of a decision at Wednesday's meeting, the Attorney General's office notified the Racing and Gaming Commission that it needs more time.

The projected opening date for the full casino resort at WarHorse Lincoln is November 2024. Plans call for a casino with more than 1,100 slot machines, 100 table games, a sports book and both live and simulcast horse racing. The complex will also include several restaurants, including a steakhouse, sports bar and café. Plans also call for a 200-room hotel and parking garage.

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