Next year’s live thoroughbred racing schedule will take on a more continuous look.

The live race dates were determined Wednesday at a meeting of the Nebraska Racing Commission in Lincoln. The thoroughbred tracks will race 53 days, five more than the minimum needed to allow legal simulcasting in 2020.

The biggest change is that the four main tracks will hold their race meets consecutively. The first day of racing will be Feb. 21 at Grand Island’s Fonner Park and the four-track rotation will conclude July 5 at Lincoln Race Course.

Fonner will race 31 days, followed by seven at Omaha’s Horsemen’s Park. Agricultural Park in Columbus then will race 11 days and Lincoln will race three.

South Sioux City will hold one live day Sept. 12 and Hastings will hold one day of quarter horse racing on a date to be determined.

Commission chairman Dennis Lee said it’s hopeful that racing continuously from late February until early July will keep horses, trainers and jockeys in the state.

“By offering a minimally interrupted race circuit the tracks feel that everyone will stay,” he said. “I agree with the logic and hopefully that proves to be true.”

In recent years, there has been a gap between the races at Horsemen’s Park and Columbus. Agricultural Park traditionally has raced in late summer and finished around Labor Day.

With the new schedule of May 29 to June 28, racing will take place closer to Memorial Day.

“I know Columbus has had issues in the past finding enough jockeys,” Lee said. “This should make it easier if those riders stick around.”

Horsemen’s Park will race seven days, two fewer than the past two years. Track General Manager Mike Newlin said last week that’s a direct result of increased competition from the new sports books at the nearby Iowa casinos.

“I’ve spoken with Mike and their simulcast numbers are down so it’s definitely a concern,” Lee said. “The sports books have had a negative impact particularly on Horsemen’s Park because of its proximity to Council Bluffs.”

Lee added that Lincoln’s seven-furlong racetrack currently under construction could be fully operational by summer.

“That’s their hope,” he said. “A lot depends on the weather between now and then.”

The race dates

Fonner Park: 31 days (Feb. 21-May 2); Horsemen’s Park: seven days (May 8-24). Agricultural Park: 11 days (May 29-June 28). Lincoln Race Course: three days (July 3-5). South Sioux City: one day (Sept. 12). Hastings: one day quarter horse racing (TBA).

Commission approves betting machines

The racing commission issued its final order Wednesday concerning Fonner Park’s application to add historic racing machines.

Fonner applied for the machines in January but there have been questions whether those should be considered legal. A supplemental evidentiary hearing was held in late July and those findings were released at Wednesday’s commission meeting.

The commission ruled that Historic Horse Racing is a valid parimutuel wager in full compliance with the Nebraska constitution and Nebraska law and the machines also were ruled to be in compliance of state law.

Discussion was held among the five commission members in July whether to approve Historic Horse Racing pari-mutuel wagering. The motion to approve passed by a 3-2 vote.

Those voting in favor were Lee, Jeffrey P. Galyen and Helen Abbott Feller. Voting against the motion were Thomas Patterson and Janell Beveridge.

“Fonner can proceed to install the system,” Lee said. “Whether someone will appeal remains to be seen.”

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