Plans for new casino, horse racing venue may never happen

Plans for new casino, horse racing venue may never happen

The news of a possible new casino and horse racing track coming to Fremont, reported by several regional media outlets on Thursday, was refuted on Friday by several officials from the City of Fremont during a meeting of the state’s Racing and Gaming Commission.

Both Fremont City Administrator Jody Sanders, as well as Fremont Planning Director Jennifer Dam, addressed members of the commission during the online meeting on Friday, Jan. 19, telling members that any proposed casino or horse racing facility was years from reality, if the plan is even approved.

The pair of senior city officials spoke during the virtual meeting attended by more than 90 people to address reports by local TV, radio and newspapers, claiming that Nebraska-based company KRG was planning to build a hotel with a casino, sports book and adjacent horse racing track on one of four proposed sites in and around Fremont.

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According to an email sent to members of the Gaming Commission, the company has its sights set on four locations for the possible gaming facility: land north of the Menard’s hardware store, and three plots of land both north and south of Military Avenue east of the U.S. Highway 275 exit.

David Bracht, an attorney representing KRG, told the commissioners that the company was involved in initial discussions with city officials about the facility, noting that the firm intended to submit applications the commission seeking approval for both gambling and horse racing permits in the future.

“Fremont seems well-positioned to host horse racing and a game hotel venue,” Bracht said.

Paul Bauer, an executive with KRG, also spoke to the commissioners, explaining that he grew up around horses on a farm north of North Bend, and that he believed horse racing was of extreme value and importance to the State of Nebraska.

“(Fremont) does align perfectly with a new racing venue,” Bauer said, while mentioning the new Inland Port Authority development. “We would be pleased to be a part of the future. We have had great conversations with the mayor, the (city) administrator. We are confident in their support.”

When asked by commission member Janell Beveridge about whether or not the company had assessed possible community support for the project, Bauer said that a local radio station had talked to residents who he claimed did support the plans for a casino and race track.

However, the group’s plans seemed to be premature based on comments from both Dam and Sanders.

Dam spoke first, stressing multiple times that the four sites listed by the company were extremely preliminary and none of the locations have been approved for development.

The proposed site behind Menard’s is inside city limits; however, the other three sites — two of which are on the north side of Morningside Road and one south of Morningside — are outside city limits and would need be both annexed into the city as well as rezoned to allow commercial development.

The three locations the company has targeted off Military Avenue are currently owned by local farmers who are actively growing crops on the land. That portion of East Military Avenue is only paved for about 400 yards from the highway off ramp, and then turns into a gravel road that leads to several farms to the east.

To the immediate south of the three plots of land is the proposed new Fremont Municipal Inland Port Authority, which is 1,500 acres of land proposed to be used for a still-undetermined development that would likely be industrial in nature. That land was rezoned in 2023 in hopes of wooing microchip and semiconductor manufacturing firms to the development.

“There certainly is a very long process before we could move ahead with any development,” Dam said. “To allay some of the fears we’ve heard from the public, this would involve a very long, public process. We are certainly willing to listen, as the area does show opportunity for development in our Comprehensive Plan.”

Sanders also spoke, stating that she was concerned about how the news of the company’s plans were portrayed in media reports on television and radio.

“We’ve met with Mr. Bauer, I’ve met with him twice. I was a little bit concerned about the word ‘enthusiastic.’ We are enthusiastic about all possible development,” Sanders said. “We did meet with him about potential public opposition.”

Jessica Kolterman, who is an executive with Lincoln Premium Poultry, spoke to the commissioners in her role as a board member with the Greater Fremont Development Council, the local entity which helps coordinate and attract development to Fremont.

Kolterman said nobody associated with the GFDC had heard about the plans until officials had seen the news on local TV reports. She stressed that the GFDC has little knowledge of the plans and has officially taken no position at this time.

“The first we heard about it was in the media reports,” Kolterman said. “To our knowledge, these landowners have not heard about it. The (GFDC) board is certainly willing to listen.”

The possibility of the proposed casino and horse racing track even being approved in the future seemed low based on comments made by several Racing and Gaming Commission members during discussion of the future of the industry in the state.

There are currently six state-approved casinos and horse racing facilities in the state, and no new applications are being accepted at this time, said Commission Member Denny Lee.

“I hope you didn’t expect us to do anything today,” Lee said to Bauer in regard to his proposal. “We are not able to accept any applications at this time.”

Another commission member — Jeff Gaylen — said that until an assessment report is officially completed and accepted by the commission, there are no plans to move forward with casino or horse racing applications.

In 2020, Nebraska voters approved a ballot initiative linking casino development to racing licenses. That new legislation requires that any company that wants to build a casino in Nebraska, other than the six existing racing license holders, must win state approval for a racetrack.

According to reporting in the Omaha World-Herald, there are six licensed racetracks eligible for casinos as of January.

Three temporary casinos are open at the tracks in Lincoln, Grand Island and Columbus, all of which plan to open permanent casinos. In Omaha, WarHorse is building a casino at Horsemen’s Park that is slated to open in September, according to the World-Herald.

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