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Nebraska commission advances first step for Ogallala racetrack, approves first-ever table games

By: - August 18, 2023 8:27 pm

The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission met Friday, Aug. 18, approving a market study, potentially opening up a new racetrack in western Nebraska, and table games for the first time. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission has approved the first step in a process that could allow a Hastings-based company to transfer its racetrack license to western Nebraska.

Commissioners voted Friday to approve a 12-week, $48,000 market study with Innovation Group. That study could set up final approval later this year of a racetrack in Ogallala after Hastings Exposition & Racing Inc. announced plans this summer to transfer its racing license. 

State law allows Hastings a one-time move of its license because the community was one of six “original” racetrack locations. The law stipulates the move must be to a Nebraska county that does not have a racetrack, in this case, from Adams County to Keith County.

Brian Jorde, a representative for the Hastings company, said a study is required to see whether the move could have any detrimental effects, such as concentrated or “undue” competition.

“We don’t believe there’s any reasonable argument that it can, in any way, be detrimental by moving that far away into a brand new market and giving the folks in western Nebraska — who often get passed over — an opportunity to be a part of something so exciting,” Jorde told the commission.

‘Definition of a win-win’

Hastings Exposition and Racing had tried for a couple of years to set up a racino in Hastings, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a location that would have been 17 to 20 miles from the racino in Grand Island.

Instead, the new racetrack is planned for nearly 200 miles away while laying the future groundwork for the Lake Mac Casino Resort and Racetrack, a 174-acre site that Jorde said would exist on the southwest corner of I-80 and Highway 26, the main intersection in Ogallala.

Mary Wilson, executive director for Keith County Area Development in Keith County, noted the new location is planned to be a “tourism destination” with its closeness to Lake McConaughy and the states of Wyoming and Colorado.

Elite Casino Resorts, which owns the Grand Island Casino Resort, plans to partner with the Hastings company for the new facility.

“We think this is the definition of a win-win,” Jorde said.

Other Nebraska communities such as Kimball, Gering, North Platte, Norfolk and Bellevue have expressed interest in more racinos. 

State Sen. Mike Jacobson of North Platte told the board at its meeting that his community still intends to submit an application after required studies of socio-economic impacts and statewide market conditions.

Table top games come to Nebraska

The commission also approved a new first in gambling for the Cornhusker State: table games at the Grand Island Casino Resort.

This is the first time the commission has approved table games. Sharon Haselhoff, the regional vice president for Elite Casino Resorts, noted that eight were ready to launch as early as the Friday dinner hour, pending final commission approval.

Commissioners approved five blackjack tables, one roulette, one Texas hold ’em and one craps table as well as 46 more slot machines for Grand Island, bringing the total number of machines to 337.

Tom Sage, the commission’s executive director, said he’d be on the road to Grand Island for one final walkthrough as soon as the commission adjourned, a final step before the new games went live.

Dennis Lee, the commission’s chair, said it was fitting that Grand Island was the first for tabletop games given its decades-long history in racing.

“It’s appropriate, I think, that Grand Island be the first to let people roll the dice and spin the ball,” Lee said.

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach rejoins the Nebraska Examiner after studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, following a yearlong Examiner internship. His coverage focus areas have included politics and government, health and well-being and higher education.

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