Wednesday, February 28, 2024

$100 million casino resort and racetrack proposed for Ogallala

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Quarter horses and slot machines would be headed to Ogallala under a $100 million casino resort proposal unveiled Tuesday.

The Lake Mac Casino Resort & Racetrack is proposed for a 174-acre site south of Interstate 80 and west of the city, officials said.

The city sits about four miles south of Lake McConaughy, the state’s largest reservoir and a popular recreation spot that attracts visitors from Colorado’s front range.

“It’s a good fit for our community,” said Mary Wilson, executive director of the Keith County Area Development.

“We already see an influx of hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to Lake McConaughy,” Wilson said.

Hastings Exposition and Racing is partnering with Elite Casino Resorts on the project, which would include a 5/8-mile racetrack and racing facilities, 180 hotel rooms, an event center, a travel center, an RV park and a casino.

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The project will help grow quarter horse racing in western Nebraska and further enhance the area as a tourism destination, officials said.

According to a press release from the partners, Hastings Exposition and Racing submitted its 2024 racing license application to the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission on Tuesday with plans to move its racing license to Ogallala.

The plan, the release said, is to grow a “multi-track Quarter Horse racing circuit in western Nebraska.”

Brian Becker, it says, started Hastings Exposition and Racing, doing business as FairPlay Park in Hastings, Nebraska, in 2004. The commission granted it a racing license in Adams County, where Hastings is located.

Becker and his team would run the racetrack and manage all aspects of the racing, the release said.

“We’ve been in the racing business for over 30 years, and the Elite family has been in the casino industry for over 30 years,” Becker said in a statement.

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Joining up with Elite Casino Resorts was “a perfect partnership to grow the Quarter Horse racing industry,” he said.

The plan calls for moving the racing license to western Nebraska and establishing a racing circuit between Ogallala/Keith County and Gering/Scotts Bluff County, where plans call for a second quarter horse racing facility, the release said.

“There are over 79,000 Quarter Horses, with over 13,500 owners in Nebraska, most in western Nebraska,” he said. “We look forward to highlighting the valuable role these Nebraska-bred horses have played in our history and growing Quarter Horse racing in our state, as well as attracting new owners and Quarter Horses from other states.”

The racetrack will have a testing and receiving barn, with a capacity for 400 stalls, a paddock viewing area, a winner’s circle and “state of the art” facilities to support the racing activities, the release said.

Ed Ziemba, president of the Nebraska Quarter Horse Racing Association, stated in the release: “We fully support this move to grow our racing industry.”

Elite Casino Resorts would be making the $100 million investment, according to spokesperson Donyelle DeVore-Kemp.

According to the release, the casino floor will include 650 slot machines, 20 live tables and a poker room.

​DeVore-Kemp did not have a firm timeline for completion of the project. A first step is to secure the commission’s approval of the Hastings license change.​

Wilson said that officials with the city and county have already indicated their support of working with Elite Casino Resorts on the project.

“They signed a memorandum of understanding a year ago, actually, last June, in support of moving forward with them,” she said. “So this is something we’ve been working on for quite some time.”

Dan Kehl, chief executive officer of Elite Casino Resorts, said in a statement the company looks forward to the partnership and “showcasing our Elite amenities in western Nebraska.”

The company operates four casino resorts: Riverside Casino & Golf Resort south of Iowa City, Iowa; Rhythm City Casino Resort, Davenport, Iowa; Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort, Larchwood, Iowa; and a temporary casino with full resort to come, the Grand Island Casino Resort in Grand Island, Nebraska.

The company is constructing a new resort, Walker’s Bluff Casino Resort, in Carterville, Illinois., 402-444-1077

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