Nebraska Gaming Commission Ramping Up Staff
Following the November 2020 election in which Nebraska voters passed a ballot referendum amending the state Constitution to allow commercial casinos at existing horse racetracks, the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission’s (NRGC) regulatory duty expanded considerably. Still, more than two and a half years later, the NRGC maintains that it is having difficulties recruiting additional personnel to regulate the burgeoning industry.
Lance Morgan, CEO of WarHorse Gaming, has acquired a provisional gaming license for the company’s Omaha temporary casino. The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission is in the process of hiring additional regulators to oversee the state’s move to commercial gaming, as the 2020 referendum approved of the transformation of Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, Lincoln Race Course, Agricultural Park in Columbus, Fonner Park in Grand Island, FairPlay Park in Hastings, and the Toakad Downs in South Sioux City to Las Vegas-style casinos. All of these locations, bar Atokad Downs, are converting their horse racetracks into full-fledged casinos, featuring slots, tables games, and sports betting. The opening of the first permanent casino is anticipated relatively soon, but in the meantime two provisional casinos have already started operations, WarHorse Casino in Lincoln in September, and the interim Grand Island Casino at Fonner Park in December. (Image: KETV).
On June 12, Caesars Entertainment will launch the third temporary casino at its Harrah’s Nebraska at Ag Park. The move is allowed under Nebraska’s gaming law, which permits licensed casinos to construct full-fledged resorts, but to conduct a temporary gaming space while those resorts are built. Regulatory Responsibilities are in place to ensure that all applicable regulations are followed.
In November 2020, Nebraska voted on a referendum which changed the then-Nebraska Racing Commission to the NRGC. As the popularity of horse racing in the state and across the nation waned, the Racing Commission started off with three commissioners and a staff of less than five. With the upcoming opening of Harrah’s Nebraska’s temporary casino, Nebraska will now be home to more than 1,000 regulated slot machines. Before any gambler can start playing, each machine must be tested and inspected for compliance, as well as undergo annual reviews. This is a time-consuming responsibility for the NRGC, but is an essential step in safeguarding Nebraska’s expansion into commercial gaming. This responsibility has necessitated an expansion to the NRGC’s staff, since last June when the Commission started to generate their funds through the issuing of $1 million casino licenses.
Tom Sage, Executive Director of the NRGC, recently told KETV in Omaha that although the agency’s commissioners have grown from three to seven, the team only consists of less than 20 employees. He expressed, “We still have many, many people to hire. I believe when we’re ramped up to full casinos, I believe we’re going to need somewhere in the range of 50 to 60 staff.” Sage was asked about the process of setting up and managing the casinos, to which he replied, “Many people thought we would bring a machine in and plug it in, and we’d be ready to go – but you just can’t turn on the light switch. It’s very complicated.” Even with the amount of work needed to be done, the casino veteran remains impressed.
Casino Veteran Impressed
Sage revealed that his agency is still looking to hire skilled gaming regulators, as they currently only have 18 employees which is not enough. Don Osert, general manager of Harrah’s Nebraska, with 30 years of experience in the US commercial gaming industry, has been surprised with the state’s gaming regulators who are relatively new to the market, despite the shortage of staff. Osert further commented, “Integrity is of great importance in the casino business; the situation in Nebraska has been similar to that of other states.”
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