Casino gaming would come to Hastings if Nebraska voters approve ballot initiative measures to allow gambling at racetracks across the state in Tuesday’s general election.
Renovations have started inside the former Bernardo’s Steak House building at 1109 S. Baltimore Ave., which is owned by the Adams County Agricultural Society and is being leased to Hastings Exposition and Racing Inc.
Brian Becker, founder of Hastings Exposition and Racing Inc., said the renovations were halted when efforts began to collect signatures to put casinos on the ballot. He said plans are to transform the building into either a sports bar or casino, depending on the outcome of the election.
Proposed Measures No. 429, 430 and 431, if approved, would amend the state constitution to legalize casino gambling at licensed horse racing track enclosures, set up laws to regulate and tax the industry, and steer some of the revenue toward offsetting local property taxes.
“Hastings should really be behind this,” Becker said. “The city and the county split the tax money. That’s a big shot in the arm for us.”
Nebraska currently has six licensed horse racetracks, including Fairplay Park at Hastings, which is operated by Hastings Exposition & Racing on the Adams County Fairgrounds, 947 S. Baltimore Ave.
The other five tracks are Fonner Park in Grand Island, Atokad Park at South Sioux City, Lincoln Race Course at Lincoln, Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, and Platte County Ag Park in Columbus.
Breann Becker, president of Hastings Exposition and Racing, said officials hope to increase quarter horse racing in the state, as an alternative to the thoroughbred racing offered at the other tracks.
She said Brian has raced quarter horses for most of his life and obtained a license for quarter horse racing 23 years ago. The Becker family has overseen horse racing at the Adams County Fairgrounds one day per year under the Fairplay Park name since 2004.
The opportunity to expand presented itself after Bernardo’s Steak House closed shortly following the death its owner, Scott Munger, in September 2017. The building is adjacent to the fairgrounds.
The Ag Society purchased the building in October 2017 from Bernardo Inc. for $300,000, according to the Adams County Assessor’s Office.
In September 2018, the Ag Society signed a term sheet with Adams County Exposition and Racing as a precursor to a lease agreement. Plans at the time included offering a restaurant and simulcasting of live horse races year-round from across the United States for betting.
Breann said the building has been gutted and much of the equipment that will be needed has been purchased, but renovations have been put on hold until the outcome of the ballot initiative is known.
With the extra revenue provided through the casino gambling, Brian Becker said, they would be able to offer more live quarter horse races each year.
“If it passes, we’re planning on running like 30 days next summer,” he said.
Breann Becker said a lot of people who race quarter horses go to Iowa or Oklahoma for larger prize pools.
“That’s where the $50,000 purses are — because of revenue from casinos,” she said. “One of our goals is to bring back quarter horse racing with big purses.”
SUPERIOR — Like towns across rural America, Superior is dotted with landmarks that local and area residents associate with certain families and their role in the community across generations.
One such landmark in Superior’s business district is the building at 160 W. Third St., which was owned for many years by John Price Sr., and was used for memorial monument sales by Megrue-Price Funeral Home.
While there hadn’t been much activity around the building in some time, a new occupant now has revived it as a place for commercial activity — and he’s none other than a Price family member, who has repurposed the location for a brand-new venture.
Ben Price, a 2018 Superior High School graduate, returned to town in January after attending Southeast Community College in Lincoln, where he completed an 18-month welding program.
Ben has established his own new business, Lost Creek Welding, out of the former monument location.
Price is the son of John Jr. and Clara Price. His father is the funeral director at Megrue-Price Funeral Home and at Klawitter-Price Funeral Home in Nelson, with monument sales continuing to be part of the family business.
His mother is manager of Main Street Floral in Superior.
Ben said he is happy to have identified a business opportunity for himself in Superior even though he hasn’t followed his father and his grandfather into the mortuary profession.
“I have thought about this occupation all my life,” Ben said. “Now, I have the opportunity to establish my own business in an empty building with which I have been acquainted all my life, located in my hometown.”
Lost Creek Welding specializes in cattle panels, plus customized welding projects and fabrication. Price’s other products to date have included deer stand platforms with easy-access ladder and railing.
Additional Price family ventures in the Superior area include the Crazy Woman Lodge northwest of town, a single-unit rental house that provides a homey residence away from home for visitors to the region.
Earlier this year, Bill Blauvelt, publisher of the Superior Express newspaper, wrote a story about Price that traced the history and many uses of the property at 160 W. Third St.
According to Blauvelt, the building was constructed in 1941 to house a machine shop operated by Stacey Barker. Later, it housed Chester Webber’s Superior Hide and Fur Co.
Other occupants through the years have included Seever Pontiac, Byfield’s Garage, a Honda motorcycle dealership, a title company called Abstracts Inc., Keith Eiel Motors and Pursell’s Liquor Store.
Continuing high test positivity rates for infection with the novel coronavirus and an increased number of related hospitalizations helped push the needle farther into the “elevated” zone this week on a dial assessing the risks of additional virus spread in the South Heartland Health District.
In a news release Wednesday evening, the district health department announced the risk dial reading increased from 2.6 to 2.7 from last week to this week.
A reading of 2.7 is approaching the high end of the “elevated” zone — color-coded orange — on the risk dial posted to the health department’s website, www.southheartlandhealth.org.
The dial, which is updated weekly, has four zones: green for low risk, yellow for moderate risk, orange for elevated risk and red for severe risk. The weekly reading is based on several factors and has been ticking up slightly each week for several consecutive weeks.
The districtwide test positivity rate for Oct. 18-24 was 16.3%, down from 17.1% for Oct. 17-23. The rate is the percentage of the number of tests administered in a given week that come back with a positive result.
Test positivity rates of 15% of higher indicate widespread community transmission of the virus, whereas rates below 5% are associated with low spread. The health department’s goal is to push the district’s positivity rate into the low range.
The number of new cases being confirmed daily in the district continues to run high, as well. South Heartland’s 14-day average number of new daily cases for the period ending Oct. 24 equaled 66.5 per 100,000 population.
“If we had low community spread, we would expect an average of eight or fewer new cases per day per 100,000,” said Michele Bever, health department executive director, in Wednesday’s news release.
The South Heartland district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. The health department has headquarters in Hastings.
As of Wednesday, 14 school systems serving pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students in the health district had student and/or staff absences related to the virus, infection with which causes the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
Altogether, more than 230 students and staff were absent for reasons related to the virus on Wednesday — down from more than 250 a week earlier on Oct. 21. Those missing included 31 students and 26 staff members in isolation after testing positive for the presence of the virus in their bodies, plus more than 170 students and staff in quarantine due to exposure.
Meanwhile, six long-term care facilities in the district have staff and/or residents who have tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks.
Hospitalization numbers in the health district related to COVID-19 are up from a week ago. As of Wednesday, hospitals in the health district were treating a total of 15 patients for the disease. Six of those patients were requiring critical care, and two were on ventilators. A week ago, the hospitals were caring for 11 patients, with two in critical care and one on a ventilator.
“Our local health system is feeling the impact of the increased spread and increased number of cases,” Bever said.
The health district has three hospitals — Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings, Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior and Webster County Community Hospital in Red Cloud.
A total of 69 health district residents have spent time in a hospital for treatment of COVID-19 since mid-March. The cumulative number stood at 55 one week ago, on the night of Oct. 21.
The district’s death toll stood at 17 as of Wednesday evening — up by one from a week ago.
New cases recorded across the health district since Monday included 45 on Tuesday and 23 on Wednesday. The first four days of this week, Sunday through Wednesday, brought a total of 127 new cases, compared to 134 for the first four days of last week and 132 for the first four days of the week before that.
Of a cumulative total of 1,442 positive cases recorded among district residents since March 18, at least 725 have recovered. The recovery number last was updated on Oct. 16.
Bever encouraged residents to protect others and themselves from the spreading virus wherever they are.
“Maintain 6 feet of distance from people you don’t live with and mask up to reduce risk of close contact exposures,” she said. “We need to reverse the current COVID-19 trends by avoiding the three Cs: avoid crowded places, avoid close contact and avoid confined spaces.”
Protecting the region’s hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with patients is one key goal at this point.
“We were able to protect our hospitals last spring by reducing our social interactions, which helped keep the spread of the virus in check,” Bever said. “In other states, we see the peak of COVID-19 cases followed about four weeks later with a peak in deaths. Our case numbers are continuing to rise. I hope that residents are concerned, too, when they see these numbers. It is up to each of us to take actions to change the course we are on.”