"Historic" horse racing bill could face photo finish

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March 22, 2012 - 7:00pm

A controversial horse racing bill advanced by a nose in the Legislature this week, and may be headed for a photo finish.

The bill would allow betting at the state's existing horse racing tracks on so-called historic horse races. Those are races, shown on video terminals, that have already been run. Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, the bill's sponsor, says there would be enough information to let people make informed bets, but not enough so they'd know the winner.


This was how senators voted on the horse racing bill:

Yes, 26
Adams, Gloor, Krist, McGill, Sullivan, Conrad, Haar, K. Langemeier, Mello, Wallman, Cook, Hadley, Larson, Nordquist, Cornett, Harr, B., Lathrop, Pahls, Council, Howard, Lautenbaugh, Schilz, Dubas, Karpisek, Louden, Schumacher

Avery, Christensen, Hansen, McCoy, Smith, Brasch, Coash, Harms, Nelson, Wightman, Campbell, Flood, Heidemann, Pirsch, Carlson, Fulton, Lambert, Price,

Passed, 3
Ashford, Bloomfield, Janssen,

Fischer, Seiler


"The racing form, the history, that kind of information is there," Lautenbaugh said. "The names and dates aren't there. And no one has the encyclopedic level of knowledge of every horse race that's ever happened that they would be presented with one and say Oh, I remember that one. That was at thus and such racetrack in 1982 on a Tuesday.'"

So far only two states - Arkansas and Kentucky - have betting on historic horse racing. Supporters say profits from having it in Nebraska would help build a new track in Lincoln to replace the one closing this year to make way for UNL's Innovation Campus. And they say that'll help save thousands of jobs, from track hands to agricultural workers, that depend on the racing industry.

Opponents say Nebraskans have repeatedly shown by their votes on ballot issues that they don't want expanded gambling. Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton points to a 2006 ballot question on authorizing video keno that was defeated, 61 to 39 percent. "We have not had historic horse racing on the ballot. I'll admit that. But I think we've had enough of these gambling issues on the ballot to recognize that Nebraskans don't want expanded gambling. They don't want to proliferate the act of gambling in the form of videos, i.e. slot machines, and I just don't think we should be down here doing that which I think the people said they don't want," said Fulton.

When historic horse racing was debated this week, opponents tried to talk it down with a filibuster. Supporters cut that off and mustered 26 votes - one more than they needed -- to give the bill the first of three legislative approvals it would require.

Gov. Dave Heineman's not saying what he'll do if the bill reaches his desk. But he's opposed expanded gambling in the past and vetoed a horse racing bill last year.

Lautenbaugh said he doesn't know if supporters would have the 30 votes needed to override a veto. "I haven't approached people and said Are you here for the override vote?' That seems a little presumptuous," he said.

Fulton says he doesn't think supporters have 30 votes. If the first round vote was any indication, "they have 26 senators who are in favor of making this law," he said.

So a decision that could affect lots of people, not to mention millions of dollars, hangs in the balance with a handful of senators, and the governor.



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