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Nebraska’s Casino Launch Alters Iowa’s Gambling Landscape

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The introduction of legal casino gaming in Nebraska has had a noticeable effect on the casino industry in the neighboring state of Iowa. It was reported two large Council Bluffs casinos have seen revenue fall and the same observation was made in the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) report for the third quarter.

In late 2022, Eastern Nebraska launched slot gaming after the state authorized casino-style gambling at horse racing tracks two years prior. This development seems to have swiftly influenced Iowa’s gambling revenues, aligning with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association’s assertion that a significant portion of money spent in Council Bluffs’ casinos comes from Nebraska residents. This group, representing Nebraska’s horse owners and trainers, was an ardent advocate for the state’s adoption of casino-style gaming.

Revenue Drop Expected by Iowa

The emergence of Nebraska as a gaming competitor was not entirely unexpected in Iowa. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission had anticipated a decline in Council Bluffs’ market following Nebraska’s entry into gambling. To put things into perspective, the commission noted that Ameristar, Harrah’s, and Horseshoe reported a combined revenue of $460 million in FY 2022-23, marking a 3% decrease ($13.2 million) from the previous year.

Notably, in the first four months of FY 2024, these three Council Bluffs casinos saw a collective revenue drop of $10.9 million. Ameristar experienced a $2.1 million decrease, while Horseshoe faced the steepest decline with a $9.2 million reduction. Harrah’s, on the other hand, managed to maintain relative stability with a slight increase of $400,000.

Potential for Further Impact

The full impact of Nebraska’s casino operations on Iowa’s gambling industry may still be unfolding. A significant concern for Iowa is the upcoming WarHorse Omaha property, poised to transform Horsemen’s Park into an alluring gaming destination. Expected to open in autumn 2024, WarHorse Omaha is projected to exacerbate the challenges for Council Bluffs’ casinos. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission and an Omaha World-Herald report anticipate that once Nebraska’s gambling operations are in full swing, Council Bluffs could lose up to $183.9 million in adjusted gross receipts.

Nebraskan patrons have expressed a preference for the new local casinos due to their convenience and the benefit of keeping their gambling expenditures within the state. However, the decision of many bettors is influenced more by factors like costs, payouts, and the overall gaming experience. This suggests that Iowa’s casinos can still attract customers by enhancing their offerings. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission remains optimistic that local casinos will continue to improve their services to maintain a competitive edge in the industry.

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