The Grand Island Independent, by Jeff Bahr

Whenever people are allowed to start gambling at Fonner Park, they’ll probably do so in a temporary structure built by Chief Industries.

Sharon Haselhoff of Elite Casino Resorts said Wednesday the gaming company has been talking to Chief about building a metal structure at Fonner Park. People will gamble in that structure while a permanent facility is built.

Elite Casino Resorts, based in Riverside, Iowa, likes to work with local companies and suppliers as much as possible. Haselhoff said it’s important to use local firms “as much as you can.”

In April, Elite was chosen as Fonner Park’s casino partner. As such, it will construct and manage the $100 million Grand Island Casino Resort at Fonner Park.

It seems unlikely that the temporary gaming structure will open by the end of the year.

The Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission still is writing the rules and regulations for casino gaming in the state. Once the commission approves the rules, they’ll have to be approved by both Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson before being officially recognized by the secretary of state’s office.

“Obviously, we’ve been paying attention to the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission and what they’re doing,” Haselhoff said.

While Elite is “anxious to get things moving along,” the company is being respectful of the commission’s process. Once Elite is “able to move forward we’ll be ready to begin the process and break ground,” she said.

“There’s always a chance” gaming might begin in Grand Island before the end of the year, Hasselhoff said. But “there’s a lot to be done.”

Haselhoff, who is general manager of Grand Falls Casino and Golf Resort at Larchwood, Iowa, received a promotion this week. She and Mo Hyder, who lives in the Quad Cities, were appointed to be regional vice presidents of Elite Casino Resorts.

While Haselhoff will continue in her role at the Larchwood casino, she also will oversee the Grand Island Casino Resort at Fonner Park.

“I’m just excited about being part of that development there. I think it’s going to be fun and exciting and can’t wait for it to begin,” she said.

The general manager of the Grand Island casino, who is yet to be named, will report to Haselhoff.

“So I will travel back and forth between the properties,” she said.

Hyder will continue to oversee operations at Rhythm City Casino Resort at Davenport, Iowa, and also be in charge of Elite’s planned development of Walker’s Bluff Casino Resort at Carterville, Ill.

Later this month, Haselhoff will mark 15 years with Elite Casino Resorts.

From now on, she will have two Grands in her life, which is fine with her. “I like the Grand properties,” she said.

Haselhoff, who grew up in Quimby, Iowa, is a graduate of Iowa State University.

She has lived in Larchwood for 10 years. The Grand Falls Casino and Golf Resort is just east of Sioux Falls, S.D. In her position, she manages the daily activities of the $120 million resort, which has more than 450 employees.

“I am really happy to make this announcement today. Both Sharon and Mo are an important part of our organization. It is Elite’s mission to cultivate talent and promote from within,” Dan Kehl, chief executive officer of Elite Casino Resorts, said in a news release. “Mo and Sharon are great leaders and will continue to make sure Elite Casino Resorts properties operate as the premier gaming resort destinations in the Midwest.”

Haselhoff joined Elite Casino Resorts in 2006, prior to the parent company being formed, as the public relations director at Riverside Casino & Golf Resort.

She is the chair and a board member of the Iowa Gaming Association. She is a member of the Lyon County Economic Development Advisory Board and is a Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Diplomat.

Prior to joining Elite, Haselhoff was in the political arena for 10 years and worked at all levels from local to national and from coast to coast. She worked on presidential races, senatorial races, gubernatorial races, mayoral races and on issues.

Haselhoff led the gaming referendum effort in Lyon County in 2008 and worked on the Grand Falls Casino application that was approved by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission in May 2010.

In 2004, Haselhoff helped with gaming referendums in Webster County and Washington County, Iowa, for the Kehl family that were both successful.

Haselhoff is a former member of Board of Directors of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors of the Sioux Falls Foundation Board and a former board member of the Iowa State University College of Human Sciences Dean’s Advisory Board.

She was the 2018 recipient of the Carrie Chapman Catt Public Engagement Award from the College of Liberal Arts and Science at Iowa State.

In 2015, she established and financed two Legacy of Heroines Scholarships and she continues to finance a portion of the political science scholarship at Iowa State University with the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics, a scholarship she received while attending Iowa State.

Haselhoff said she’s happy about being part of the Grand Island development “and I’m looking forward to working with the community and being part of the project.”