Historic horse racing, race day measures considered

The General Affairs Committee heard joint testimony Feb. 11 on two measures intended to pave the way for wagering on historic horse racing in Nebraska.

LB590, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would authorize the state Racing Commission to license and regulate pari-mutuel waging on historic horse races.

An historic horse race creates a pari-mutel pool via instant racing terminals from wagers placed on a previously held race at a licensed racetrack.

The bill would establish a Historic Horse Racing Distribution Fund comprising taxes collected from the races and licensing fees, which would be $1,000 per machine.

Half of the fund’s proceeds would be credited to the Racing Commission Cash Fund to be used for programs that facilitate equine therapy for youth and veterans and the other half would be directed to the Compulsive Gambler’s Assistance Fund.

Under the bill, historic horse racing would end if it were found by a court to allow any additional Class III gaming as defined in the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Authority to license and regulate historic horse racing also would terminate if specific criteria were not met within four years of continuous use of instant racing terminals, including:

  • construction of a race track enclosure in a county that contains a city of the primary class;
  • a 25 percent increase in purses compared to 2011; and
  • a 30 percent increase in the number of live horse racing days at tracks with instant racing terminals in counties other than Douglas, or a 40 percent increase in Douglas County.

LR41CA, also introduced by Lautenbaugh, would place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2014 general election ballot regarding historic horse racing. If approved by voters, the amendment would allow wagering on the results of live, replayed and delayed horse races at licensed racetracks where live racing occurs by a pari-mutuel method.

Lautenbaugh said he believes wagering on historic horse races to be legal under current Nebraska law, but introduced both measures to provide statutory protection and constitutional clarification for the horse racing industry.

He said the inability to utilize machines for wagering on historic races is hindering the survival of the horse racing industry in the state.

“This is about agriculture and the traditions of our state,” he said. “We’re talking about thousands of jobs here.”

Gregory Hosch, general manager of Horseman’s Park in Omaha, testified in support, saying betting on historic races is a form of pari-mutuel wagering, which is allowed under the current constitution, and would not be an expansion of gambling in the state.

“We believe that this is legal already,” Hosch said, but added that tracks are reluctant to install the machines without legal and constitutional clarification.

Lynne Schuller of the Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association also supported the measures, saying current laws regulating horse racing in Nebraska were written in the 1920s and 1930s and need to be updated.

“These types of technological advances would have never been envisioned when these statutes were written,” she said. “We would like to update our games if at all possible.”

Pat Loontjer of Gambling with the Good Life testified in opposition, saying historic racing machines would be an unconstitutional expansion of gambling and would create more problem gamblers in Nebraska.

“This is not a win-win situation,” she said. “There are winners and losers and I think we need to think about the losers.”

The committee also considered LB73, introduced by Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, which would remove the current formula used to determine the number of required live race days at tracks across the state to qualify for interstate simulcasting.

The bill instead would require a statewide total of 49 live race days, with at least one live race day scheduled at each track.

The bill would require each track to have at least one live race day.

“With LB73 in place, all racetracks are treated equally,” McCoy said.

The committee voted Feb. 13 to advance LB590 to general file on a 6-2 vote and voted 6-1 to advance LR41CA. The committee has not taken action on LB73.

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