Gambling

Harrah’s Columbus Sets Opening, State’s First Permanent Casino

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Posted on: April 22, 2024, 06:48h. 

Last updated on: April 22, 2024, 06:48h.

Harrah’s Columbus has been given the green light by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission to open its doors next month.

Harrah's Columbus Nebraska casino
Harrah’s Columbus is seen in December 2023 amid construction. The nearly $100 million casino is set to open next month. (Image: KOLN)

On Friday, state gaming regulators approved Harrah’s plan to open its permanent casino on May 13. Officially Harrah’s Columbus, NE Racing & Casino, the gaming venue comes from Caesars Entertainment.

The Las Vegas-based gaming giant invested nearly $100 million to develop a new horse racetrack northwest of the downtown area along U.S. Route 81/Howard Blvd. In addition to a new one-mile horse racecourse, the only one-miler in the Cornhusker State, Harrah’s will offer a small gaming space measuring about 17,000 square feet equipped with 400 slot machines and 11 live dealer table games.

Harrah’s Columbus will also feature a Caesars Sportsbook, a craft beer spot called Brew Brothers, and a sports bar called Wishbones. A race book with pari-mutuel wagering is also opening, though live racing won’t begin until August. A condition of each gaming license issued by the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission is that the casino is on the same property as where live horse races are conducted.

An adjacent Marriott hotel is also being finished and will open around the casino’s commencement.

First to Market

Nebraskans passed a ballot referendum during the 2020 election that amended the state constitution to permit Las Vegas-style casino gambling at licensed horse racetracks. Platte County officials said Caesars presented the best development, which resulted in the firm being picked to build and operate the county’s casino.

Caesars operated a temporary casino inside Platte County Agricultural Park — commonly called Ag Park — from June 2023 until its recent closure ahead of the permanent casino’s scheduled opening. Caesars opted not to redevelop Ag Park but to build an entirely new horse racing venue.

Harrah’s Columbus will become the state’s first permanent casino to open.

This is a big deal,” Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission Chair Dennis Lee said on Friday.

The casino replaced a former events center called Wishbones, hence the name of the forthcoming sports bar.

“It was a venue for years for entertainment,” Columbus Mayor James Bulkey told the Omaha World-Herald. “People recognize that name.”

Caesars officials said the grand opening plans are not yet solidified. While May 13 is the target date, there could be some flexibility in the exact opening.

Caesars remains on a hiring spree. The casino’s website has many job vacancies posted, with available positions including sportsbook staff, waiters, internal auditors, bartenders, slot techs, slot attendants, hosts, cashier cage workers, security officers, and table game dealers.

Casino Scaled Back

When Caesars announced the original blueprint for the permanent Harrah’s Columbus, the company said the casino floor would span 28,000 square feet — nearly 40% larger than the finished development. The casino announced in March 2023 was also to have slightly more gaming positions with 500 slots and 14 table games.

Harrah’s Columbus is one of four permanent casinos being built.

WarHorse Gaming, a subsidiary of Ho-Chunk, Inc., the commercial economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, is building WarHorse-branded casino resorts in Omaha at Horsemen’s Park and in Lincoln at the Lincoln Race Course.

Iowa-based Elite Casino Resorts is relocating Fonner Park’s racing license to Ogallala for a venue called the Grand Island Casino Resort.

A racetrack casino plan for Hastings Park was scrapped last year. The state’s sixth and only other possible casino location — Atokad Downs in South Sioux City — could be later developed by WarHorse once it completes its two other projects.

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