The developer of a planned casino in Hastings was pleased with the outcome of gambling initiatives during the general election.
Renovations have started inside the former Bernardo’s Steak House building, 1109 S. Baltimore Ave., which is owned by the Adams County Agricultural Society and is being leased to Hastings Exposition and Racing Inc.
Brian Becker, founder of Hastings Exposition and Racing, said the renovations were halted when efforts began to collect signatures to put casinos on the ballot.
Initiatives No. 429, 430 and 431 will amend the state constitution to legalize casino gambling at licensed horse racing track enclosures, set up laws to regulate and tax the industry, and steer some of the revenue toward offsetting local property taxes.
Statewide, those initiatives were approved with 64.97%, 64.93% and 68.66% of the vote, respectively. In Adams County, they were approved with 58.35%, 58.24% and 61.52% of the vote.
“The people spoke, didn’t they?” Becker said in an interview on Friday. “They were tired of what they saw — the money going to Iowa for too many years.”
Now that the initiatives have passed, Becker said he expects the Hastings casino to open “as soon as we can.”
Slot machines will take up much of the space, he said.
“We’re going to have food, but it’s not going to be a menu like Bernardo’s had,” he said. “Most people who go to a casino, they don’t go there to eat. They go there to play.”
He called Gov. Pete Ricketts’ opposition to the gambling measures hypocritical as the Ricketts family-owned Chicago Cubs work to introduce sports betting at Wrigley Field or in the Wrigleyville area outside of the park.
“How can it be that bad if they have sports betting at Wrigley Field? The Ricketts family? So it’s OK for the wealthy but it’s not good for the citizens of Nebraska?” Becker said.
Nebraska currently has six licensed horse racetracks, including Fairplay Park at Hastings, which is operated by Hastings Exposition & Racing on the Adams County Fairgrounds, 947 S. Baltimore Ave.
The other five tracks are Fonner Park in Grand Island, Atokad Park at South Sioux City, Lincoln Race Course at Lincoln, Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, and Platte County Ag Park in Columbus.
Becker’s daughter, Breann Becker, is president of Hastings Exposition and Racing.
With the extra revenue provided through the casino gambling, Brian Becker said, they would be able to offer more live quarter horse races each year.
He said he believes the demand is there for racing.
“When we were running full race cards, the public they came clear from the Kansas border, clear from McCook,” he said. “They support it very well.”
Initiative No. 431 imposes an annual tax of 20% on gross gambling revenue of licensed gaming operators, distributing 2.5% of tax revenue to the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund, 2.5% to the General Fund, 70% to the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund, and 25% to the counties where gambling is authorized at licensed racetracks. Becker said the host city and county would split that 25% allotment.
“You take the whole state, it’s going to be a lot of tax money,” he said.
Mike Nevrivy, licensed operator for Hastings Keno Inc., expressed trepidation about what effect the gambling measures will have on keno.
“Keno has been around a long time and provided cities with a huge amount of revenue over the years,” he said. “I hope people will continue to support keno.”
A lot of restaurants and bars rely on keno.
“You look at the gambling pie, and there’s only so much out there,” Nevrivy said.
He said when casino gambling was first allowed in Iowa in the early 1990s, it affected keno participation in eastern Nebraska. He said that effect was short-lived, however.
Becker said he didn’t think casino gambling would affect keno gaming.
“They’re two different monsters,” he said.