DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa casino officials worry they will lose business when several Nebraska casinos open because voters in that state approved gambling.
When casinos are built in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, they could hurt Iowa gaming revenues, especially in Council Bluffs, where four casinos currently operate, officials contend. Other Iowa border towns with casinos include Sioux City, Onawa and Sloan.
The development of casinos in Nebraska could be another blow to Iowa casinos that are already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re still trying to rebound in all the markets because of COVID-19,” said Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association. “To have something like this coming online could have a ripple effect.”
Roughly two-thirds of Nebraska voters approved three constitutional amendments last week to legalize casinos at the state’s six licensed horse tracks, regulate the industry and devote some of the money to a tax credit for property owners.
Casino backers in Nebraska want to open casinos as soon as possible and then expand them to include restaurants, hotels and other amenities. Nebraska gambling supporters hope to reclaim a significant part of the roughly $500 million Nebraskans spend annually at casinos in Iowa and other states, said Michael Newlin, general manager of Horseman’s Park in Omaha and Lincoln Race Course.
Newlin said he believes the new casinos will provide a boost to horse racing in the region because their profits will boost prizes at races. The horse racing industry has been in decline for decades across the country.
“Racing will flourish and grow,” he said. “In three to five years, I think we will start seeing trainers and owners in Iowa finally come back home to Nebraska.”
But Gary Palmer, general manager of Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Altoona, Iowa, said he’s not convinced the new casinos will have a significant impact on horse racing.
“It could help our horse-racing business. It could lead to a bigger circulation of horses in the Midwest and purses could grow,” Palmer said. “But the inventory nationwide of horses is really down. We’ll have to see how it works.”