There is a new horse racing bill that has started its way through the Nebraska Legislature.
LB73 is a bill to require the horse racing tracks in Nebraska to run a total of at least 49 days of live racing each year. If that requirement isn’t met, then none of the tracks would be able to simulcast horse races from around the nation.
The bill has been met with skepticism from some horsemen. The Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association has opted to take a neutral stand on the bill.
But the members contacted by the Grand Island Independent were for the most part in favor of the bill.
“I definitely think 49 days is the least we can run and have a representative racing season,” HBPA president Todd Veerhusen said. “I hope we can increase that.
“It’s not a bad bill. I don’t know if it’s the answer for horse racing, but it’s a bill that will probably help Columbus out.”
The current law requires individual tracks to host at least 70 percent of the racing days they hosted in 1988, or in the case of Ag Park in Columbus, 23 days.
Ag Park is now scheduled to run a 16-day meet from Aug. 2 to Sept. 2. That, combined with the one day ran at Lincoln Race Track earlier this month, three days at Horsemen’s Park in Omaha and 31 at Fonner Park in Grand Island, brings the total to 51 for the Nebraska circuit this year.
Grand Island horse owner Kevin Hulse said he feels there are both good and bad elements to LB73.
“I have mixed feelings on it,” Hulse said. “It guarantees horsemen 49 days. That’s one positive thing. I’d like to see more days, but money determines that.”
Hulse likes that the bill links all the Nebraska tracks together. If the tracks can’t work out a 49-day season, then none of them would be able to offer simulcasting.
Live racing costs money, and the tracks lose money on those meets. This bill would prevent a track like Fonner Park from reorganizing its ownership and offering just one day of racing to keep its simulcasting license.
Hulse doesn’t think that would ever happen anyway, but the new bill would guarantee that it won’t be an option.
Fonner Park CEO Hugh Miner said he hasn’t yet looked at LB73 that closely.
“We’re going to find out more before we determine whether or not to support that measure,” Miner said. “Forty-nine days is not a lot of days. That’s my concern. We need to keep our horsemen in the state. To me it would be very hard to make a living on just 49 days of racing in the state.”
Some of the horsemen have their doubts about the bill sponsored by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha.
“I don’t know if it’s that important to horsemen,” HBPA board member Gene McCloud said. “It’s just to make sure we have 49 days of live racing in Nebraska. We can’t have any less than 49.”