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Opponents See Horse-Racing Measure as "Bait and Switch"

Idaho lawmakers overturned historical horse-racing terminals in 2015 because of their resemblance to slot-machine gambling. (Mark Bonica/Flickr)
Idaho lawmakers overturned historical horse-racing terminals in 2015 because of their resemblance to slot-machine gambling. (Mark Bonica/Flickr)
September 24, 2018

BOISE, Idaho — Opponents are lining up against a measure on Idaho's November ballot that would bring horse racing betting terminals back to the state.

Proposition 1 would allow Idahoans to bet on horse races of years past. Supporters of the machines say they'll help boost interest in a declining horse-racing industry and that public schools would receive one-half percent of all betting on the terminals. But opponents, including Idaho legislators such as Sen. Brent Hill, mayors and Northwest Tribes, call the measure a bait and switch.

Attorney Tyrel Stevenson is legislative director for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

"What this is really about is about gambling machines, not horses,” Stevenson said. “And many of the concerns that people in opposition to the proposition have are related to the misleading ways that the proposition has been presented to people."

In 2013, the Idaho Legislature approved what's known as historical horse racing. However, the law was overturned in 2015 when lawmakers decided the machines too closely resemble slot-machine gambling, which is outlawed by the Idaho Constitution.

According to Proposition 1, facilities would be allowed to have terminals if they host or simulcast at least eight live horse races a year.

Stevenson said he isn't convinced the proposition would help public schools as much as supporters claim. He said the promoters of these machines would be the real benefactors, receiving 18 times more money than schools.

"Operators are pocketing millions, and schools just get a few dollars,” Stevenson said. “It's also important to remember that the last time that the machines were in play, back in 2015, the Idaho State Racing Commission improperly paid horse-breeding groups instead of directing the money to schools at all."

Supporters of the proposition say oversight would be in place to prevent problems, and it would create jobs in the state. Stevenson observed that the last time horse-racing terminals were legal, those jobs were mostly minimum wage and without benefits.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID