The following editorial first appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star.
Horse racing advocates don’t give up. You’ve got to give them that. Especially because their determination seems like one of the few things that they’ve got going for them these days.
After the Legislature narrowly approved placing a measure on the November ballot to let voters decide whether to allow betting on historical horse races, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled the question must be pulled from the ballot. The court found that voters could not be asked to decide on two unrelated issues on one ballot measure. The horse racing question involved language allowing betting on “instant racing” and about how tax revenue from it might be distributed.
Instant racing involves video betting on previously run races. Data that might identify where and when the races took place is scrubbed, but information about the horses and trainers is available to help bettors who might try to handicap the races.
Betting on instant racing is fast-paced, and gambling foes have likened it to horse-related slot machines. They argue that it’s a broadening of gambling in the state. Proponents of historical horse racing see it as a way to revive the faltering live racing industry by giving folks another reason to visit the track.
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Despite the court’s ruling, Todd Veerhusen, president of the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association told the Associated Press last week, "By no means are we stopping. We are not giving up on this. That, I can promise you."
Maybe -- at some point -- they should. Historical horse racing has been a hotly debated topic in the last two legislative sessions, prompting a veto by Gov. Dave Heineman in 2012. This year, senators barely gave it the 30 votes it needed to get it put on the ballot.
It’s a strange strategy: Horse racing advocates hope to draw more folks to the track by giving them another option, one that isn’t confined just to limited days of live racing. But in a sense, historical horse racing makes live racing even more expendable by giving bettors a faster-paced, more convenient option that doesn’t have anything to do with real hooves pounding the ground.
We don’t wish the horse-racing industry ill. There are jobs at stake. And live racing dates do seem to draw a crowd, though that may have something to do with the limited nature of them. A huge crowd for one day of racing at Lincoln Race Course doesn’t mean there’d be similarly huge crowds for 10 days of racing.
Horse racing faces certain economic realities. Folks don’t flock to the track like they used to. Purses get smaller, which deters horse owners from racing here. And other pastimes vie for people’s time.
Something needs to change if horse racing is to be saved. But the problems with historic horse racing make it appear that it may not be the change that’s needed.