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Horse racing fans will recognize the man tapped to lead the Lincoln Race Course and Horsemen’s Park in Omaha.

Omaha Exposition and Racing has picked Mike Newlin to be its new vice president of racing operations and general manager of Horsemen’s Park.

Born and raised in Nebraska, Newlin was director of operations and racing manager at the Nebraska State Fair for its last two years in Lincoln.

Newlin, 49, has switched jobs several times since leaving the Nebraska racing circuit, and Omaha Exposition and Racing Board President Bob Moser Jr. said his accomplishments in those positions show a winning track record.

“Everywhere he has gone, he has brought an enthusiasm to racing, increased racing handle, improved facilities and improved profitability of the company. So we are very excited to bring Mike Newlin aboard,” Moser said in an interview Tuesday.

After leaving the State Fair, Newlin offered management consulting in Nebraska for a couple of years before taking a job heading up food service, catering and amusement park operations at Como Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul, Minnesota, for six months in 2011.

His next stop was as general manager of New Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where he transitioned it from a state-run facility to a private company.

He left that job in October 2012 to work for Penn National Gaming Inc., one of the nation's largest publicly held gaming companies, as general manager of the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club in Longwood, Florida, which is expected to do $41 million in on-track wagering this year.

One of the few things that could have pulled him away from Penn National Gaming was a chance to return to Nebraska, Newlin said.

He leaves Penn National Gaming on Oct. 19 and will start with Omaha Exposition and Racing Oct. 23. In the meantime, he is packing and working to sell his home in Debary, Florida.

His first priority in his new job: more live race days.

Since he left Nebraska in 2009, live race days have plummeted from 103 to 52 this year. And the handle, or amount bet, has gone from $89.9 million in 2009 to $68 million in 2014. Horsemen’s Park this year hosted three live race days in early May and Lincoln Race Course one last Monday.

“Live racing is a key component to the overall success of racing in Nebraska,” Newlin said. “We’re already discussing the possibility of adding another weekend or some more racing dates in Omaha (in 2016).”

Bringing more live racing to Lincoln will be more of a challenge. First, the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which owns both Lincoln Race Course and Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, has to raise $15 million to $20 million to build a permanent mile-long track and barns.

“I know Lincoln has the ability to support live racing. In 2008 and 2009 at State Fair Park we were putting up great numbers,” Newlin said. “In less than two years we increased the handle and attendance double digits on live racing and we had bigger crowds every week.”

“On a Friday night we would have more than 3,000 people there for live racing.”

Newlin said he’s not an old-style track guy. Horse racing, he said, has to adapt with the times and become more interactive for people of all ages.

“I want to make it fun for everyone, not just the experienced horse player but also the brand-new person who has never been to a horse track before,” he said.

When the State Fair moved to Grand Island, Omaha Exposition and Racing took over racing operations in Lincoln. Newlin said at the time he didn’t see eye to eye with leadership of the organization, which was headed by Greg Hosch.

Now, he'll be replacing Hosch, who left Omaha Exposition and Racing in June.

Moser said the board sorted through 44 applications for the position and chose Newlin from among six finalists.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ljsbergin.

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