Tribes Won't Renew Contract With Firm That Filed Initiative

Jan 31, 2018

Credit Otto Kitsinger / Associated Press

Officials with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes say they will not renew a contract with their lobbying firm after it filed a ballot initiative to legalize lucrative betting machines known as instant racing.

The tribes and others across the state have previously come out against the betting terminals because they do not use pari-mutuel wagering — a betting system that pits bettors against each other and gives the house a percentage of the winnings— which is allowed under Idaho law.

Such machines were briefly legal in Idaho but lawmakers banned them in 2015 after deeming them too similar to illegal slot machines.

Earlier this year, Benn Brocksome, a lobbyist with the Boise firm Strategies 360, filed a ballot initiative seeking to legalize the machines on behalf of Treasure Valley Racing.

Treasure Valley Racing operates the Les Bois racetrack just outside of Boise.

Strategies 360 has also had a lobbying contract with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes since last February that is set to expire Feb. 9.

"We acknowledge what Benn did and we are going to let the contract with Strategies 360 expire," Randy'L Teton, the tribes' public affairs manager, said in a phone interview last week.

Teton declined to comment further on the issue, saying the tribes' council considers the issue an internal matter.

Todd Dvorak with Strategies 360 said the firm has been transparent and forthcoming with the tribes and Treasure Valley Racing before and after the ballot initiative was filed.

"Ultimately, with our year-long contract expiring in February, tribal leadership has elected to put their government affairs work out to bid, and we fully understand that decision," Dvorak said in a prepared statement. "It's been a privilege to work on behalf of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes over the last year, helping tribal leadership and members achieve important goals."

Choosing to file a ballot initiative bypasses the Idaho Legislature that has refused to reconsider legalizing the machines over the past two years.

None of the tribes in Idaho, including the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, have taken a public stance yet on whether they oppose or support the ballot initiative effort.

While it's difficult to pass a ballot initiative in Idaho, voters have a long history of approving gaming efforts.

Between 2013 and 2015, roughly 200 betting terminals were installed at a handful of tracks in Idaho when the machines were legal. Many remain unplugged at empty tracks.