Two years ago, Idaho lawmakers approved instant horse racing, which allows people to gamble using past races. Since that time, instant racing machines have been set up at three Idaho locations; Garden City, Post Falls and Idaho Falls.
But once lawmakers saw those machines in action, some felt they had little to do with horse races, and looked too much like illegal slot machines. Some lawmakers said they had been tricked into approving instant racing and the Legislature voted this year to make the machines illegal.
Last week, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter quietly vetoed that decision, though there are questions about the legality of that veto.
So, why has instant racing taken up so much of lawmakers' time during the legislative session? Here are four reasons instant racing has been in the headlines for the last few months.
This fight has pitted the operators of Idaho’s few horse and dog tracks against Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Tribe. The tribe sees instant racing as cutting into its gambling revenue. The tribe also feels the machines are unfair because it has not been allowed to open gambling operations off of reservation land in the past.
Track operators say without the draw of the machines bringing people in the doors, they will go out of business.
Instant racing has been in operation in Idaho less than a year. The largest of the three locations is the Les Bois Park Turf Club in Garden City.
The Idaho Statesman reports that park operators spent $4 million buying machines and remodeling and hiring new people in preparation for the increased business. The Statesman also reports that in the first eight months, more than 70,000 people bet almost $40 million on instant racing at Les Bois.
Upping The Ante
According to The Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell both the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the racing industry have pulled out all the stops to lobby lawmakers and the governor. We won't know how much lobbyists have spent in 2015 on this bill until later in the year.
Russell also reports that both sides have contributed to Gov. Otter’s campaigns, but track operators have donated more than four times than the tribe. According to Russell, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe has given Otter $22,000 since 2000 and track operators in Boise and Post Falls have given Otter a combined $92,200 during that same time.
All Bets Are Not In
Because Gov. Otter did not notify lawmakers of his veto in the time specified by law, it could be challenged in court. If a lawsuit were successful, lawmakers’ desired ban on instant racing could still go into effect.
“One of the Senators said to me today that people keep coming up to him and saying ‘whew, good thing that’s over,’” Russell says. “And he says, ‘it’s not over. We’re going to be dealing with this for a long time.’”
Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam
Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio