The stakes weren’t all that high for Wednesday’s live races in Lincoln. Yet the 1-furlong sprints at Lincoln Race Course gave fans a chance to look to the future.
Soon, a $220 million casino and hotel complex will begin to rise in southwest Lincoln, with gambling proceeds expected to help facilitate live races that could grow from Wednesday’s seconds-long dashes to full fields running for 100 days.
“It’ll be good for Nebraska racing,” said jockey Mike Luark, who rode Chared in Wednesday’s first race. “The more days we run, the better off it is for all of the horsemen and everybody involved with it.”
The Lincoln Race Course had originally planned this year’s live racing day for July, but moved it up as preparations continue for construction of the new WarHorse casino.
Bumpy Game took Wednesday’s first race, with Mayzee winning the second. The live races are a constitutional requirement which allows Lincoln Race Course to open its doors to simulcast wagering of races from across the country over the next year.
Since State Fair Park closed after the 2011 meet, simulcast wagering has been about the only offering to horse racing enthusiasts locally.
Julie Larmon of Denton breeds thoroughbreds and said she enjoys going to the races in Lincoln and looks forward to more of them. She said she is excited to have horse barns on site so jockeys and horses will no longer have to travel to the racetrack the day of the race.
The barns are a part of expansion plans. The enlarged track is already in place.
“It just takes time and money and a little patience,” she said. “But we’ve got an awful lot of horses here in Nebraska and we can compete and we’re ready to do that.”
Diane Vaiskunas and her brother Dick Dummar came in from Omaha for Wednesday’s races.
Vaiskunas said she thinks support for casino gambling at Nebraska horse tracks became widespread when people began to realize how much money Nebraskans were wagering in Iowa.
“There’s a lot of people from Nebraska putting a lot of money into Iowa, and it just isn’t right that we’re not getting some of the benefits of that,” she said.
Dummar said he thinks the new Lincoln facility is essential to the future of Nebraska horse racing.
When complete, the WarHorse Casino is expected to have 1,200 gaming stations, a 196-room hotel, event space, restaurants and other amenities.
Construction is expected to extend into late 2022 or early 2023.
“We needed this to happen. I don’t know if live racing and racing in Nebraska would ever survive as it is right now,” he said. “This whole area is going to be totally changed, it’s gonna be exciting.”
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