The suit filed by the state attorney general Wednesday against the Nebraska Horse Racing Commission puts at least a temporary halt to Fonner Park’s plans to install historical racing machines at the Grand Island track.
Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak said he had hoped to have the machines installed by Feb. 21, the opening day of Fonner Park’s 31-day live racing meet.
“Well, the attorney general is certainly throwing a monkey wrench into plans, and we are uncertain right now as to what the next step will be,” Kotulak said Thursday.
Opponents say the historical racing machines are just like slot machines. Kotulak and the racing commission have said that they are not slot machines, but are another form of parimutuel wagering which is permitted at state licensed race tracks.
“I would not install a slot machine here at Fonner Park because slot machines are illegal,” Kotulak said. “But PariMAX historical horse racing terminals are parimutuel, they’re not slot machines. Slot machines have a random number generator (RNG) and these terminals do not.”
The historical racing machines use past races from around the country. Bettors get much of the same information that comes from the racing form in order to help make their wagers.
Other states — including Kentucky and Wyoming — have installed historical racing machines and have had great success with them. The increased revenue from these machines have allowed both states to up their purses which in turn attracts trainers to bring better horses to the track.
Kotulak said Wyoming is back on the horse racing map after allowing the machines.
“That was barely a blip on anyone’s horse racing radar. Well, now the purse money is far better than what it is in Nebraska,” Kotulak said. “And in Virginia where horse racing just literally dried up and went away, historical horse racing enabled Colonial Downs to come back. They had a summertime race meet where $100,000 stake races were the norm.”
The racing commission approved Fonner’s request to install the historical racing machines in late July last year. Kotulak said at the time he hoped to have the machines installed sometime between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.
But that goal was never realized.
The attorney general expressed his opposition to the machines more than once.
Kotulak said he’s just trying to do what’s best for the racing industry.
“My role here as CEO is to do everything I can to help the Nebraska horse racing industry, to help trainers, owners and breeders,” Kotulak said. “The very essence of the statutes that allow parimutuel wagering in Nebraska are to promote agriculture and promote horse breeding. And that is my intention, to do what I can do to revitalize Nebraska horse racing.”
The challenge from the attorney general’s office is no surprise to Kotulak or other Fonner Park officials.
“In the planning process we expected to face some form of opposition,” Kotulak said. “But we are following the approval of the Nebraska State Racing Commission that PariMAX historical horse racing terminals are a parimutuel form of wagering, and that’s what we intend to follow.”