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.
When members of the Hastings Board of Education meet on Monday, they will act on a recommendation from district staff to approve a bid from Carmichael Construction to remodel the former Morton Elementary building.
“They did Alcott, and we’re very happy with that,” Trent Kelly, HPS director of technology and operations, said introducing the item at the board’s Nov. 5 work session.
The bid from Carmichael Construction of Hastings was $5.294 million.
“Right where we thought it would come in,” Kelly said.
The board’s meeting is 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Hastings City Building, 220 N. Hastings Ave.
The district established $6 million as the not-to-exceed amount for the project.
Patrons in the Hastings Public School District voted during the May primary to approve renovations at Morton for use as a districtwide preschool and administrative office.
About 68% of voters cast ballots during that election in support of the levy-neutral bond question — 3,466 of the 5,097 total ballots cast.
Morton was closed as an educational institution in 2016 as part of the master plan to rejuvenate and improve all HPS elementary facilities. Since then, the Morton campus has served as the temporary home to two other HPS elementary schools — Alcott and then Longfellow — while those schools’ buildings were renovated.
The Morton project would not be unlike the recent renovations of Alcott and Longfellow — elementary schools that are of a similar vintage, being around 90-100 years old.
The Morton project completion date is March 31, 2022.
Hastings Public Schools received five bids for the remodel. The three lowest bids for the project were listed in the information provided for Monday’s meeting.
Besides Carmichael, the other bids listed included $5.366 million from Hausmann Construction of Lincoln and $5.393 million from Farris Construction.
Kelly said a lot of local subcontractors will be involved in the project.
“When you look at the elementary bond that was approved in 2014 and then this Morton one, $27.5 million that this community approved for our elementary facilities,” HPS Superintendent Jeff Schneider said Thursday. “Almost every one of those dollars turned over in our local economy with local contractors. That’s a good thing for our community. So thank you to Hastings for supporting us, but it’s also been a good business thing for our community.”