WarHorse Gaming’s long-planned casino, racing and entertainment complex opened in Omaha on Wednesday, marking a milestone for a development that has had to wait for the legislative and regulatory process to unfold.
To be built on the Horsemen’s Park site near 63rd and Q streets, the project includes the renovation of the existing Horsemen’s Park complex and the addition of nearly 67,000 square feet in new construction and expansion.
WarHorse Gaming plans to have the renovated building ready for guests next spring. As the building is being renovated, the simulcast will be moved to a temporary facility that is already in place on the infield of the track.
No date has yet been set for the closure of the existing facility, but it is expected to take place later this fall.
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Lance Morgan, CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc. – the parent company of WarHorse Gaming and the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska – said the renovated building will be incorporated into the new construction. The entire complex is expected to open in early 2024.
WarHorse project officials originally hoped to inaugurate the facility last summer and complete construction in September. At the time, the cost was estimated at $220 million. Last year’s inflation pushed those estimates up to $250 million.
Despite anticipated cost increases, Morgan said officials don’t plan to seek more than the $17.5 million in tax-raised funding the Omaha City Council allocated to the project last summer.
Aware of the controversy that often surrounds TIF requests, Morgan said the company limits its request to infrastructure improvements. More than $6 million of the TIF’s $17.5 million will be spent on offsite public improvements, including stormwater drainage, utility works and Q Street improvements.
“Anyone who’s been here realizes that the road isn’t quite ready for prime time. We’re about to have 1 million guests a year, and you have a two-lane road,” he said. “I think it’s incumbent on us and the city to work together to get something that can handle the traffic.”
For horse racing fans, the grand opening marked what Garald “Wally” Wollesen, president of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, considers a historic day.
In an interview, Wollesen said the resort is expected to make a significant contribution to restoring the state’s horse racing scene, which has suffered a severe blow with the closure of the old Ak-Sar-Ben racecourse in the 1990s.
“Nebraska has such a base that has been running forever. We will rebuild it,” he said.
Since Nebraska voters passed a trio of ballot measures in November 2020 that allowed for the expansion of casino gaming operations at licensed racetracks, Morgan said the company has been “sprinting” to get everything in place. .
But the company had to comply with the legislative and regulatory process that took place over several months. Among the mountain of work that needed to be done was the Nebraska Race and Gaming Commission’s approval last December of 67 pages of casino gaming rules and regulations. Governor Pete Ricketts approved the settlement in May.
Now that the regulations are in place, affected parties have expressed relief and gratitude.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Morgan said.
Dennis Lee, chairman of the Racing and Gaming Commission, said he envisions WarHorse resorts in Omaha and Lincoln to help strengthen Nebraska with offerings beyond gaming, including dining, events and concerts.
“It’s going to be a real boost for the economy in different ways,” he said.
Photos: Renders show proposed casino at Omaha Cavaliers Park