06/03/2002 11:00PM

Nebraska phone bets halted


A partnership of five racetracks in Nebraska has stopped taking bets through an account-wagering system after the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that telephone betting is illegal.

The partnership included Atokad Park, Columbus Races, Fonner Park, Horsemen's Park and Nebraska State Fair Park. The tracks opened the account-wagering service seven months ago.

The Nebraska Supreme Court issued a ruling on May 31 declaring account wagering unconstitutional. The court cited a provision of the state constitution that says that betting "is limited to wagering that takes place inside the confines of a racetrack."

The Nebraska tracks had argued that since the betting operation was based at Horsemen's Park, the telephone wagers were legal. The state's attorney general, who brought the lawsuit, disagreed.

Officials of Horsemen's Park did not return phone calls on Tuesday.

Denny Oehlshlager, the executive director of the Nebraska Racing Commission, said on Tuesday that account wagering activity in the state had "picked up steam" in March and April, but he said the amounts were not substantial.

Oehlshlager said the Nebraska statute that created offtrack betting and account wagering was passed 10 years ago. The provision allowing offtrack betting was struck down shortly after the law was passed, but the account-betting language was never challenged because the state's tracks had never pursued telephone wagering until late last year.