Legal Changes Needed for Nebraska Casino Gambling at the State Fair

When you think of the State Fair, what comes to mind? Food, games, and carnival rides? For most fairs, this is what you will find. In Nebraska, residents want to add one more element, casino gambling. Just recently, voters approved gambling at Fonner Park and other race traces. However, an old law is in place that will stop operations from taking place during State Fairs.

Bringing in More Revenues

Legislation that dates to 1879 must be changed in order for gambling to be an option at the State Fair. The measure does not allow indecent dancing, gambling, or horse racing within 40 rods of a state or county fair. With the gambling portion, it would stop new casinos from offering gambling games while the fair is in town. While gambling does not necessarily have to be connected to the fair itself, the casinos will not want to close just so the fair can operate.

The term 40 rods is used to describe an eighth of a mile. So, without changing the language, gambling would not be an option within any close proximity of the fair. Senator Ray Aguilar wants to see the law changed to help Fonner Park earn more funds along with the tracks in Columbus and Hastings when they host fairs.

It has been estimated that if casinos must close during fairs then it would create a loss of around $1 million. In speaking with the fair boar, Chris Kotulak of Fonner Park, said that the outdated law would stop the park from securing the best casino operator and the optimal amount of revenues.

Casinos are Coming

Last year, initiatives were approved by voters in Nebraska to allow licensed horse racetracks to establish casino facilities. The venues will bring in new revenues and help with property tax relief for the state. With legalized gambling, venues like Fonner Park will be able to increase purses during races as well as rewards and incentives for breeders.

All forms of gambling will be allowed that fall under Class I. This includes card games, slots, roulette, blackjack and craps. Slots are expected to generate the bulk of the revenues, as they tend to be the most popular game among players.

Now the process involves finding partners to help create the casinos. In general, big name operators are open to creating casinos anywhere in the US if they are considered a profitable option. However, with this old law in place in Nebraska, operators might not be too keen on creating a venue, only to close once a year due to the State Fair.

It doesn’t appear as thought the issue will be a hard one to solve. A legislative effort will be needed to amend the language and then the casinos can remain open once they are up and running at the fairgrounds, even if the fair is in town.

How quickly that will happen is anyone’s guess. However, if the state wants to see casinos added sooner rather than later, something needs to be done now, even legal reassurance, so that operators will start to show interest in creating a casino in the state.

Conor Stack
Conor Stack

Conor is one of our main writers on USGS focusing on a wide range of industry coverage across sports, casino and poker.