Nebraska: Hastings racetrack owner submits application to relocate casino project to Ogallala

A significant development for Nebraska’s nascent casino industry was announced last week, as plans to transfer a racing license from Hasting to Ogallala were unveiled, potentially bringing gambling to western Nebraska. Hastings Exposition and Racing, the current holder of the permit, confirmed that it has submitted an application to the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission for the license transfer.

Brian Jorde, spokesperson for Hastings Exposition and Racing, said they are excited for the commission to “get that teed up and approved so we can get going,” as reported by Nebraska Public Media. A vote for the project would still need to take place afterward.

Under the proposal, the Hastings company intends to establish a multi-track quarter horse racing circuit in partnership with Elite Casino Resorts. Elite Casino, owner of the Grand Island Casino resort, plans to invest $100 million in the project for the new racetrack and casino, commonly referred to as “racinos.”

The proposed 174-acre site, named the Lake Mac Casino Resort and Racetrack, aims to leverage the tourism potential of Lake McConaughy. Jorde emphasized the benefits of the move, stating the firm is “doing everyone a favor” by expanding beyond the Grand Island racino and venturing into the Panhandle.

The $100 million pitch would feature a casino floor with 650 slot machines, 20 live dealer table games, and a dedicated poker room. The resort would also include a 180-room hotel, an event center, numerous dining options, an RV park, and a pool and spa.

“After two and a half years and hundreds of thousands of dollars it became clear there was too much uncertainty with Hastings and the community,” Jorde said, as per KSNB. “The vocal minority and when you are talking fifty, sixty, seventy million investment you have to have certainty.”

He further explained: “Western Nebraska always gets shut out. Our plan is to get this up and going in Ogallala and then get up and going in Gering and have a Quarter Horse circuit between the two locations.”

In 2020, Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved casino gambling at the state’s licensed racetracks in Omaha, Lincoln, Columbus, Grand Island, Hastings, and South Sioux City. Several other communities, including Kimball, Gering, North Platte, Norfolk, and Bellevue, have also expressed interest in hosting racinos.

Hasting Exposition and Racing spent much of last year trying to get the Hastings City Council to approve plans for a racino on the north edge of town. However, the council rejected the proposal in March 2022, although it did approve an altered plan in November without a game partner.