Fonner Park captures nationwide attention in debut of trial period, but it might not be enough

Fonner Park captures nationwide attention in debut of trial period, but it might not be enough

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Though the grandstands were empty, a Grand Island race track attracted eyes from across the country.

Fonner Park debuted a spectator-less trial period Monday, producing an all-time track record handle, or sum of wagers, before a scattering of race personnel, trainers and a few spectators who watched from their cars due to safety measures related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fonner garnered $1,340,047 in handle, according to The Grand Island Independent. But only $28,571 was wagered locally, meaning the rest of the roughly $1.3 million pot was generated through wagering facilities across the nation, and even in Australia and Canada.

On the surface, such robust figures seem to indicate a rousing success. Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak offered a more somber conclusion.

“Monday, March 23, was a monumental day in the history of Fonner Park,” Kotulak told the Independent. “Unfortunately, that was not the case for recouping expenses to conduct racing. The horsemen and Fonner Park retain only a tiny sliver of the overall money that’s raised.”

Fonner Park ceased racing operations entirely on March 16, following the precedent forged by virtually every other sporting event around the world. However, three days later, the Nebraska State Racing Commission passed a motion granting a two-week trial period of conducting races without spectators during an "emergency meeting."

Fans and interested bettors were able to watch the action live across the country on the TVG Network as Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma is believed to be the only other track hosting live races early this week.

“I have that TVG app from home, and I was watching it and it’s pretty cool to see Fonner Park being broadcasted to the nation,” Mark Hibdon, a trainer from Texas and regular at Fonner in recent years, told the Independent. "… To see Fonner Park surviving and making a go at it … I mean, these guys are just awesome. I don’t know how we’re pulling it off, but we’re doing it.”

The races will continue three days a week — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — until the trial period ends April 1, when officials are expected to convene and reassess the situation.

Latest updates on coronavirus in Lincoln and nearby

See the latest news as more coronavirus cases are identified in Nebraska.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported late Thursday night that an 11th Nebraska resident has apparently contracted the coronavirus. HHS is waiting for confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Hy-Vee at the Capitol had a contract to supply lunch meals and sandwiches weekdays until the end of the legislative session, but because of COVID-19 concerns it has decided to shut down its operation early.

The Zoo Bar, Duffy’s Tavern, Bourbon Theatre, 1867 Bar and Bodega’s Alley — the downtown live-music venues — have all closed and canceled shows for at least two weeks in an effort to battle the spread of the coronavirus.

“At this point, everyone should just take a deep breath and wait till we announce procedurally how we will address these things,” said Matt Larson, associate superintendent of instruction.

As bad as the losses from major event cancellations are, economists say the economic damage they cause is likely to pale compared to the effects of the widespread closings of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses.

The mall announced in a news release that it would suspend its hours, starting at 7 p.m. Monday, with plans to reopen April 6.

Many companies have pledged to pay employees for at least the next two weeks, ranging from large retailers such as Kohl's and The Buckle to small local businesses such as Sandy's. But plenty of people are finding themselves out of work with no pay.

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Marcus Hotels & Resorts on Tuesday announced it will close a number of hotels it owns temporarily, including the Marriott Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln.

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Topping the list is more than 5,800 sets of gloves, with 2,500 of those coming from Iron Brush Tattoo, which decided earlier this month to shut down and donate all of its supplies to health care workers.


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