The Idaho Racing Commission is scrambling to avoid a funding crisis after its primary revenue source evaporated earlier this year with the closing of the largest horse racing track in the state.
By law, a portion of the money bet on horse racing in Idaho is diverted to the commission, which relies on that money, as well as revenue from license permits and fees, to regulate and oversee the racing industry.
Currently, the commission is projected to receive around $80,000 in revenue for its next fiscal year budget — less than needed to hire part-time staff and veterinarians to oversee the remaining nine race tracks in the state, said Ardie Noyes, the commission's management assistant.
The commission says it needs more money to hire investigators, veterinarians and state stewards who visit tracks to seek out illegal activity, investigate possible animal cruelty and perform other duties.
Les Bois Park, which closed its Boise track in March, had previously funneled the most money to the commission. With that money gone, the commission will submit a new funding proposal to the Idaho Legislature during the 2017 session.
Under the proposed legislation, the commission would receive a larger share of online betting revenue. However, the move would reduce the amount of online revenue that now goes to purses paid to winning horses and to tracks that simulcast races.
If the new proposal is approved, the commission would receive $334,000 for fiscal year 2018, supporters say.
Noyes said the proposal isn't ideal. Racing purses, the thinking goes, are the key to drawing top level horses and generating more track bets. So the smaller the purse, the smaller the chance of reviving the ailing industry in the state.
Horse racing in Idaho has been on a steady decline for decades as fewer people attend live racing events and other forms of gambling have taken over.
The industry got a short glimmer of hope of revival when the Idaho Legislature legalized betting machines in 2013 that let players make bets on past horse races.
The machines were supposed to pump millions of dollars back into horse racing, but lawmakers repealed the law after objecting to the similarities to slot machines.