The Nebraska State Racing Commission reversed course at the 11th hour and approved agreements to continue simulcast horse racing at all four tracks in the state following a lawsuit filed last week by the simulcast provider for Lincoln and Omaha facilities.
Commission Director Tom Sage announced the decision in a news release before 1 a.m. Monday. Lincoln Race Course and Horsemen's Park in Omaha had been preparing to cease betting on these races in 2018.
Omaha Exposition and Racing Inc. on Thursday had appealed the Nebraska State Racing Commission's order earlier this month to cease simulcasting operations Jan. 1.
Omaha Exposition and Racing simulcasts live races from tracks in other states that patrons at the Lincoln Race Course, near U.S. 77 and West Denton Road, and Horsemen's Park in Omaha can bet on.
In the Monday news release, Sage didn't address the reason for the reversal. The commission has approval to allow simulcasting at all four thoroughbred tracks in Nebraska.
He couldn't be reached for comment Monday, which was a holiday for state agencies.
Simulcast wagering, where someone in Lincoln can bet on races at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York or Santa Anita Park in California for instance, has been legal in Nebraska since 1988.
State law requires tracks, including Ag Park in Columbus, to hold one live race annually to offer simulcast betting.
Many patrons at Lincoln Race Course were confused over the weekend following a judge's decision Friday not to block the commission's ruling from taking effect.
In the appeal, Chris Jerram, who is representing Omaha Exposition and Racing, said the company had a valid agreement with the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association that is legally required to simulcast races in Lincoln and Omaha. He alleged that the commission's decision was unsupported by the evidence.
Jerram didn't respond to requests for comment.
A contract battle between the state's horsemen and Fonner Park in Grand Island, which has the state's longest live meet, appeared to be the reason for the looming shutdown.
Because the Nebraska's Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association, representing the state's licensed owners and trainers, must approve all simulcast agreements in the state, and presumably wouldn't be approving any deal with Fonner Park for the new year, it appeared the state racing commission opted to cease all agreements.
On Friday, several regular patrons at Lincoln Race Course said they were not concerned because they didn't feel the commission's decision would be permanent.
"Everything was approved last night and so we're open for business and simulcast races," the track's general manager, Christy Harris said Monday.
"We were confident that there would be, hopefully, a decision."
At Lincoln Race Course, New Year's Day is generally a busy day for betting, Harris said.
On Monday, East Coast weather was the only thing limiting wagers as four of the eight tracks Lincoln simulcasts canceled their races, she said.