Idaho House committee says it was ‘duped’ on instant racing

A House panel rejects horse gaming machines at Les Bois; the Senate might follow suit.

cmsewell@idahostatesman.comJanuary 29, 2014 

  • WHAT IS HISTORICAL HORSE RACING?

    Also called instant racing, it uses video terminals that access a database of 500,000 previously run horse races. The bettor puts money in the machine, selects a race and then receives statistical information on the horses, trainers and jockeys. The names and racetrack are not revealed. The bettor selects three horses and presses start; a video of the race plays, revealing the winners. The bettor, if lucky, collects the winnings.

    Currently, instant racing betting is legal in four other states: Arkansas, Kentucky, Oregon and Wyoming.

As the operator of betting at Les Bois prepares to install 200 instant racing machines this spring, some Idaho legislators want to halt — and possibly rewrite — the rules that allow such gambling.

The House State Affairs Committee voted to reject proposed rules for instant gaming in Idaho, arguing that the kind of betting explained to legislators is not what’s coming.

“This is the elephant in the room and I may as well say it,” Vice Chairwoman Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, told the committee last week. “I think that there are some in this body that have felt duped. The machine that was characterized in committee last year is not the machine that we will be seeing coming into the racetrack.”

The committee vote was to reject the rules necessary to implement the law the Legislature passed last year that allows the new type of video betting, called historical horse racing or instant racing.

A similar committee in the Senate voted to approve the rules; both bodies would have to agree to stop it.

Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill said members of the State Affairs Committee expressed concerns after they voted to OK the rules. He said he thinks there is “good chance” that a House resolution to reject the rules could come to the Senate, which would give that body an opportunity to reject the expanded gambling.

Hill, a skeptic of gambling in Idaho, also said he has heard that legislation is being drafted that could put tighter reins on the bill approved last year. He did not have any details.

Treasure Valley Racing did not respond to Statesman requests for comment about the House committee criticisms.

COMMITTEE’S TOUR

The House committee members said they felt duped for several reasons: The terminals allow the bettor to fast-forward to the end of the race, permitting rapid betting; the video images are a small part of the betting terminal; and more machines than they expected are likely to be installed.

Earlier this month, Treasure Valley Racing invited House State Affairs committee members to Les Bois Park to see an earlier model of the instant racing terminal.

At hearings last year, committee members were shown a video about Idaho's equine industry, but they did not see images of an instant racing betting terminal in action.

“It was when I did see the machine that I did become uncomfortable with the process,” Batt told the committee last week.

Some committee members said they were surprised to learn bettors can move right to the end of the race, enabling them to bet on many races in a short time.

“I do have concerns about the rapidity of which play occurs on these machines,” said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise. “With simulcast, you wait five or 10 minutes to get race results, not 30 seconds. Based on that, this is something different than I understood we were voting on last year.”

Luker has introduced a separate bill that prohibits betting terminals from accepting credit or debit cards.

Another sore point for some committee members was learning that 200 betting terminals are set to be installed at Les Bois Park.

Batt referenced last year's committee hearing minutes, in which Treasure Valley Racing co-owner James Grigsby told the committee that the company planned to install 50 terminals. This fall, Treasure Valley Racing representatives told the Ada County Commissioners, Garden City officials and the Idaho Statesman that they planned to install 200 terminals.

They also plan to expand operating hours from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. five days a week to 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week.

Treasure Valley Racing defended its decision to install 200 machines in a statement to the Statesman, saying the number grew as the company assessed the market and the costs.

“Based upon this assessment, it was determined that we needed to expand our original estimate(s) to 200 historical racing terminals to provide sufficient revenue streams to effectively address the required operating needs and capital commitments,” the company said.

Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell

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