The Native American operation, Ho-Chunk Incorporated, has launched a new division to manage and operate the expansion of casino gaming at three existing horse racing tracks in Nebraska.
Ho-Chunk CEO Lance Morgan says each of those facilities will be in the $200 million cost range and compete with Iowa casinos in nearby Council Bluffs. “The competition in Council Bluffs is a little weak, you know, they’ve been there for 25 years and they haven’t done much to change them. And so, we are going to come out with the best product possible,” Morgan says.
They’ve created WarHorse Gaming in partnership with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association to develop casino gaming at the licensed horseracing tracks in Omaha, Lincoln, and South Sioux City. He says there’s a lot of planning and preparation to take place before those casinos become a reality as gambling just became legal in Nebraska on January 1st.
“And they have to get the regulatory system in place. And we’ve got to raise four or five hundred million dollars to get them all built — so we’ve got a little bit of an issue to work through to get them all built,” according to Morgan. “With any luck, we should be starting construction and breaking ground here in the spring when the weather breaks. And it could take a year or more to finish them.”
Morgan says some of the money generated by their “Keep the Money in Nebraska” effort approved in last November’s election will be used for property tax relief. He funded a study that shows millions of dollars will come from the Iowa casinos.
He says that’s about $80 million each year that will stay in Nebraska and not go to Iowa casinos. A smaller-scale project is planned for South Sioux City’s Atokad Park, which will include a new horse racing track. He says they need a little more land and then he says they will expand the track and build a casino with 400 or 500 machines that be an investment of $50 to $60 million.
That facility would compete directly with Sioux City’s Hard Rock Casino and Hotel. Morgan was part of a group who bid to place a land-based casino in Sioux City’s Warrior Hotel property after the riverboat casino left town. His group lost out to the Hard Rock’s bid.
(By Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City)