Last year, Gov. Pete Ricketts signed into law Nebraska's first casino-gambling law. Shortly after, Harrah's Casinos expressed interest in putting a casino in Columbus. Now, they've found a temporary home.
As of last week, the Platte County Ag Society and Caesars Entertainment have entered a lease agreement for temporary usage of the downstairs exhibit hall space at Ag Park until the permanent casino is constructed in approximately 15 months.
According to Caesars Entertainment Regional President Todd Connelly, this will be the only space the temporary casino will occupy, with minor renovations required to fit their needs.
"All the rest of it we won't have access to. The front or upstairs, that's not ours. In the exhibit hall, we'll build the casino in there with offices and counting rooms," Connelly said.
Gregg Melliger, president of the Platte County Ag Society Board, said the decision was difficult for the Ag Society, but that the money from Caesars Entertainment's lease would allow for some much needed construction.
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"Our long-term plan is to build a new Ag Park, a bigger better one. This chance to make this extra money was a deciding factor in that it would work for us to move along with our plans," Melliger said.
The renovation has been needed for some time, Melliger said, as the buildings at Ag Park are functional but many of them older, and repair costs get costly.
"We're trying to keep up with neighboring counties. Our newest building is 40-some-years-old, and it's hard to keep pouring money into this old facility," Melliger said.
The temporary facility, Connelly said, will feature 250 slot machines, most of those being the newest machines Caesars has. There will not be any table games, but there will be virtual or video versions of them, for the sake of space. Connelly added that their plans are dependent on regulations.
"Obviously there will be video poker, keno machines, video machines and some real slot machines, like the old mechanical ones. [It will have] everything we have at our casinos except the table games, the same games and same manufacturers," Connelly said.
Additionally, the permanent facility will bring a lot of improvements over the temporary one, such as the planned race track and restaurant.
"We won't have any food at the temporary facility, we will have Brew Brothers at the permanent one. I believe we'll have the only one-mile track in Nebraska as well," Connelly said. "We have a huge commitment to the community and to horse racing. We know it's important to Nebraska and it's important to us."
Melliger added that the casino in the downstairs exhibit hall won't affect the Platte County Fair beyond the location of the exhibits usually housed in that space.
"We're still going to put on a great fair next year. It will be a little different, the exhibits will be under the grandstand, but the midway will stay the same," Melliger said. "Hopefully partnering with Caesars we can get some entertainment and put on a really good show for the fair."