Nebraska’s WarHorse Casino Holds Grand Opening, State’s First Legal Casino

The temporary WarHorse Casino in Lincoln held its grand opening September 24 (l.), becoming the first state-licensed casino in Nebraska. The facility touts 433 slot machines, and could raise $1 million or more in tax revenue moving forward.

Nebraska made history on Saturday, September 24 with the opening of the first state-licensed casino. It finally came after voters approved three initiatives in November 2020, one of which changed the state constitution to allow games of chance. 

The WarHorse Casino, located in Lincoln, saw hundreds of people arrive to the facility, eager to play one of the 433 slot machines at the temporary casino. The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission granted the license a day earlier. 

The casino was set to open at 10 a.m., but 30 minutes before, while a crowd of more than 100 people waited outside, Tribal Elder and member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska’s Tribal Council Ken Mallory was among the first to play a slot machine. 

“What’s the difference between praying at church and praying at the casino?” Mallory joked to reporters and dignitaries as he pulled a slot machine. “At the casino you really mean it.” 

While there was general enthusiasm from the public about the casino’s opening, there is uncertainty when the other five will be available to the public. 

The initiative also called for casino-style gaming and sports betting at the race track casinos, often referred to as racinos. Since sports betting will only be allowed in casinos, the state will be losing millions in online wagering, usually the majority of a state’s handle. For example, neighboring Iowa, which permits online wagering, had 89.8% of its wagers placed online in August, accounting for $108 million of its $122.6 million in handles. 

Where Iowa will be affected is visitors from Nebraska who before the Lincoln casino opened, had to travel 64 miles up Interstate 80 to Council Bluffs, Iowa to visit the closest casino. 

Nebraska is taxing casinos 20 percent on its revenue. Of the taxes collected, 70 percent will go to the state’s Property Tax Credit Fund, while 25 percent goes to the city and county where the casino is located, split evenly, and 2.5 percent each to the state’s general fund and Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund.

When advocates were campaigning to get the initiatives passed, they claimed $45 million could be collected in taxes annually. That figure, however, was based on six fully operational casinos and sportsbooks, something that is at least a year away. 

How much revenue WarHorse Casino will provide to the state is unclear. By comparison, Harrah’s Council Bluffs Casino wagered $51.4 million on slots in August, with revenue of approximately $5.4 million. 

If the Lincoln casino can generate those types of figures, they could raise $1 million in taxes.