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Our casino is coming; state must make it happen

Our casino is coming; state must make it happen

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The voters spoke in November by approving casino gambling at horse racing tracks in Nebraska.

Now, Grand Island’s voice can be heard loud and proud as Fonner Park officials announced Friday morning that Elite Casino Resorts will build and operate Grand Island Casino Resort at Fonner Park.

The family-owned, Iowa-based company sounds like a perfect partner for our community. They reference employees as family members. Elite anticipates hiring 370 people with a $17.1 million payroll.

Fonner CEO Chris Kotulak shared his personal expectations for a casino operator:

n Trust

n Partnership

n Experience

For those attending Friday’s announcement Elite seems to check all the boxes with a simple story of how they took care of their employees as they have worked their way through the pandemic. Elite also operates Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort in Larchwood, Iowa, which is about 15 miles east of Sioux Falls, S.D.; Riverside Casino & Golf Resort, which is south of Iowa City, and Rhythm City Casino and Resort in Davenport, Iowa. Pending state gaming commission approval, the company will build Walker’s Bluff Casino Resort near Carbondale, Ill.

The Grand Island Casino floor will feature at least 650 slot machines and 20 table games in addition to the horse racing and keno at Fonner. No doubt, casino patrons will find a full weekend of activities when they visit Grand Island.

Preliminary plans call for a boutique hotel with 116 rooms, atop a floor of amenities, including a spa, and the casino floor. There also will be four restaurants, including one on the top floor.

According to Grand Island Chamber President Cindy Johnson, the planned integration of the new resort will complement and enhance the existing facilities and bring new attention, awareness and support for horse racing and the Nebraska State Fair. All activities will be conveniently located along South Locust Street.

“It will broaden our market sphere of influence and strengthen and expand our trade area,” Johnson said after the announcement. “We are proud to have Elite Casino Resorts as a new community partner and pledge our support for their development plan. This will be a tremendous asset to the community and region.”

The projected economic effect from the Grand Island casino in the first seven years is $67 million for the state, Hall County and Grand Island.

Now, putting a shovel in the ground for the casinos planned in both Grand Island and Lincoln is the priority, but that really cannot occur until Gov. Pete Ricketts appoints the final two commissioners so the rules and regulations for casino operation in the state may be approved.

It’s no secret that Ricketts was against casinos in the Cornhusker State, but it’s way beyond time for the state’s chief executive to allow the gaming commission to move forward. Ricketts should no longer hold all the cards involving the state’s casinos. He needs to make the appointments to the commission, step back and let them do their work.

Nebraskans spoke loud and clear last November.

It’s time to light the neon and punch the play button on casino gaming in Nebraska.

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