Idaho Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Ban On Instant Horse Racing

Aug 11, 2015

Both sides in the instant horse racing case shake hands with the justices.
Credit Screenshot / Idaho Public Television

It’s a multi-million dollar question that now stands before the Idaho Supreme Court: Should a ban on instant horse racing become law? This question was argued before the justices Tuesday.

The case is about instant horse racing machines, which some, like the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, argue are too close to illegal slot machines.

Two years ago, Idaho lawmakers approved  instant horse racing, which allows people to gamble using past races. Since that time, they've been set up at three Idaho locations; Garden City, Post Falls and Idaho Falls.

But once lawmakers saw those machines in action, some said they had been tricked into approving something that looked too much like slot machines.

This year, the Idaho Legislature voted to ban the practice. Governor Butch Otter vetoed that ban, however, he was late in submitting his veto. The Senate noted that fact and then voted to override the veto, but didn’t have enough votes. So was the veto valid, or not?

The tribe says no. Arguing their case before the court, attorney Deborah Ferguson said the constitution says if the veto is late, it’s not valid. That means the ban became law and the Senate had no authority to try an override.

“And this is because the bill had already become a law and the bill was not subject at that point to further reconsideration,” says Ferguson.

But does the Senate’s attempt to override the veto give the veto validity? The confusion meant Secretary of State Lawrence Denney wouldn’t certify the ban. His counsel, deputy attorney general Brian Kane, says the Secretary of State has no discretion in this case.

“There’s no way for the Secretary of State to say, ‘Senate, you’ve acted improperly, I’m going to certify it as law.’ That is impossible,” says Kane. “That is the problem with this case.”

Deborah Ferguson says the tribe, who sued Secretary Lawerence Denney, is demanding he certify the ban as law.

“The Secretary of State has a mandatory, non-discretionary duty to certify laws that have been enacted and to place them on the books,” Ferguson says.

But Kane countered, saying Denney can’t act unless the Legislature, or the Court, clarifies the law and tells him to do so.

“He doesn’t have the unilateral power to declare what is a law and what isn’t a law. The Secretary of State takes his direction from someone else,” according to Kane.

Now it is up to the Supreme Court to decide if Denney should enact the ban on what has become a multi-million dollar industry.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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