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Racing Commission not expected to take up pending question of historic horse racing

RILEY JOHNSON Lincoln Journal StarMay 24, 2019

State horse racing regulators want more time to ponder whether to approve the legally contentious request to add slot machine-like historic horse racing terminals at Fonner Park.

The Nebraska Racing Commission will not vote on the request at its meeting in Lincoln on Friday, the first since they took the issue under advisement in late January.

“Nothing’s been decided,” said Tom Sage, executive director of the commission. He noted that he hasn’t been asked to add the pending item to the May meeting agenda.

Commission Chair Dennis P. Lee of Omaha didn’t return a request for comment.

The commission’s meeting in January was a re-do on the item. In October 2018, members approved the addition of historic horse racing terminals at the Grand Island track, but that vote was retracted after Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said the commission had violated the state’s open meetings laws.

Fonner Park officials and horse racing advocates see the terminals as a way for the industry to draw more fans and maintain the viability of the state’s horse racing tracks, which have suffered through decades of decline. They want the commission to approve the terminals and adopt regulations governing them that were developed in Kentucky.

After Iowa expanded its sports betting offerings, horse track officials in Omaha fear their infrequent live races and simulcasting options won’t be enough to keep bettors’ interests.

Peterson has challenged the legality of historic horse racing in Nebraska and warned the commission it must front its own legal defense should they adopt the new wagering means and face a lawsuit.

Previous efforts to enact historic horse racing through the Legislature and at the ballot box have both failed.

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