Controversial betting machines headed to Nebraska horse tracks

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Racing Commission rejected the position of the state’s attorneys in voting Wednesday to install controversial machines that take wagers at Nebraska’s thoroughbred tracks.

Commissioners voted 3-2 during a meeting at Grand Island’s Fonner Park racetrack to allow the machines, which are used to bet on historical horse races. The same board approved the machines in October but then nullified that vote amid warnings that the meeting had violated state open meeting rules.

Chris Kotulak, the CEO of Fonner Park, praised Wednesday’s decision, saying it would pump millions of tax dollars into state coffers and provide a much-needed boost to the state’s struggling thoroughbred racetracks.

“It will be the urgent shot in the arm to help the horse racing industry,” Kotulak said. “The surrounding states that offer thoroughbred racing all have additional gaming that supplements their purse money. They’re taking away the horses and trainers.”

Meanwhile, the head of a leading anti-gambling group in Nebraska promised a swift legal challenge to the commission’s action. The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office has said the commission lacks the power to approve a new form of legalized betting in the state.

“It’s a slot machine,” said Pat Loontjer of Gambling with the Good Life. “It walks like a duck, it talks like a duck — it’s a duck.”

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