Gering applies for horse racetrack-casino project

    The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission heard proposals last week for five new horse racetracks-casino projects, which would nearly double the number of licensed tracks in the state. Voters last year approved a constitutional amendment allowing casinos at licensed horsetracks. 

       Applications for the new proposals in Bellevue, York, Norfolk, North Platte and Gering drew a standing room-only crowd in Lincoln with a combination of testimony for and against the 3 in the eastern half of the state. No action was taken, but the Commission formed 2 committees focused on construction and strategic planning.

    The Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protection Association and Ho-Chunk Inc, the development arm of Nebraska’s Winnebago tribe, led the successful casino initiative campaign, but both testified against the Bellevue and York proposals because they would compete for gamblers and dilute race purses.

    Brian Becker and his daughter Breanne, who hold a one-day quarter-horse racing schedule in Hastings, proposed the Gering and North Platte track-casino projects, partnering with the Chickasaw Nation tribe in Oklahoma, which has one of the most successful tribal casino systems in the nation. 

     The 5/8th-mile Gering track would be on 104-acres adjacent to the Heartland Expressway/Hwy 71 and between it and the Five Rocks Amphitheater with at least 6 barns and up to 600 stalls, a testing/receiving barn, paddock viewing area, grandstand with box seating, horsemen lounge area, rooftop terrace and 780 parking spaces.

   Once the Scottsbluff/Gering area is established as a horse racing destination with one day a year of racing, Phase II would be a state gaming license and construction of a 23,000-square foot casino with 400 electronic games, 4 table games, simulcast racing area, sportsbook, restaurant and bar, retail, gift shop and other amenities.

     The company projects 130 to 180 jobs between the casino and track with salaries of $3.5 to $4-million dollars a year. The company says the two would generate more than $75-million a year in state taxes over the first decade of operations and more than $12.5-million for Gering and Scottsbluff. 10% of operating income from the casino would go to the Quarter Racing Association of Nebraska and a breeding program.

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