Nebraska Casinos Move One Step Closer to Reality

Dec. 17, 2021, 3 p.m. ·

Felicia Hilton speaks to the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Felicia Hilton speaks to the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission Friday. (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission approved rules for casinos to operate in the state on Friday, bringing expanded gambling one step closer to reality.

The rules are designed to govern casino gambling at racetracks, approved by voters last year. They cover everything from who can own and manage casinos to how money is handled and whether smoking will be allowed – it won’t be. In a public hearing before the vote, Lynne McNally, representing of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the casinos that would operate in Lincoln and Omaha, praised the rules.

“They, in our opinion, have extensive focus on integrity and security, which we think is essential for the fair operation of these facilities,” McNally said.

Felicia Hilton of the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters also praised the rules, but said they need to be strengthened to require detailed payroll records for construction contracts. Otherwise, Hilton said, labor brokers will bring in workers from other states or countries, which could block her union’s members from opportunities.

Pat Loontjer of the anti-gambling group Gambling with the Good Life conceded her side had lost the election, but said her members wanted to limit the number of casinos in the state.

“Our main concern now is to keep it at six,” Loontjer said. "That’s what the voters approved, and I know there’s a lot of other cities who have suddenly decided they love horses and they’d like to have a racetrack, you know. Maybe they’d put a casino next to it, y’know."

The state’s six existing racetracks, in Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, Columbus, South Sioux City and Hastings, are expected to apply for casino licenses. In addition, Bellevue, Norfolk, York, Gering, North Platte and Ogallala have expressed interest.

Commission Chairman Dennis Lee indicated applications from existing racetracks would probably be considered first, but they can’t be filed until the rules are approved by the attorney general and the governor.

Lee wouldn’t predict when casinos might begin operating, He said it could be next year, but added he wouldn’t be surprised if it was 2023.