Tribe sees double standard in Idaho's approval of historical race wagering

An Indian tribe in the northern part of the state wonders why off-reservation betting that it was denied is about to be offered in other locations.

THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEWMarch 26, 2014 

Bobby Geiger, director of gaming and wagering at Oaklawn racetrack in Hot Springs, Ark., demonstrates electronic horse racing machines at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky. On its website, a Kentucky Downs advertisement reads, “Instant Racing marked the first effort by racing interests to merge the ‘fun and flash’ of video gaming with the wagering excitement of horse racing.”

LLUKE SHARRETT — Lexington Herald-Leader via AP

When the Coeur d'Alene Tribe wanted to buy a former greyhound racetrack in Post Falls and turn it into a casino in 1998, Idaho Gov. Phil Batt said no.

That restriction became state law in 2002.

Now, gambling on slot machine-like devices is coming to Idaho, prompting some legislators to complain that they were "duped" into approving the new form of betting last year. It's coming to the Treasure Valley at Les Bois Park. And it's coming to Greyhound Park in Post Falls, near Coeur d'Alene.

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe sees a double standard. The gambling at Greyhound Park would be "an economic threat to the tribe, no question about it," said Bill Roden, the tribe's lobbyist in Boise. "And it's sort of ironic that the governor said no to us."

The kind of gaming in question is called historical race wagering. Its brand name is Instant Racing. It's done on slots-like machines with 2-inch screens in an upper corner on which the last few seconds of previously run horse races are shown. Operators bet and reels spin with symbols.

They're considered parimutuel betting because the risk is pooled among players around the country betting on various historical races. That concept is being challenged in court in Kentucky, where Instant Racing has been in place for a few years.

Some lawmakers who have long been averse to an expansion of gambling in Idaho anticipated a different version of betting on horse races — not dinging, flashing machines that encourage rapid betting.

Last year, representatives of Idaho's horse industry told lawmakers that betting on randomly generated broadcasts of historical horse races would be a financial savior for their industry, as betting on live horse races happens only a few months of the year. Idaho already allows betting on simulcasts of horse races at tracks elsewhere.

The new law authorizes the use of the historical betting machines anywhere where simulcast betting is authorized. In Garden City, Les Bois Park has announced plans to install 200 of the machines and expand its operating days and hours to stay open until 2 a.m. seven days a week.

Former Idaho Sen. Jim Hammond, now a member of Idaho's state Racing Commission, said he doesn't expect that to happen at Greyhound Park.

"It just doesn't compare to what's happening in Boise," he said. "They're kind of the only game in town, where (in the north) there's two well-established venues for that kind of entertainment."

Hammond said he supports the move.

"I think those horsemen, that industry, needs as much help as they can get, and I'm willing to help them out," Hammond said.

Doug Okuniewicz, manager of Greyhound Park, said he's ordered 10 of the machines and hopes to have them up and running in May.

"We're going to wade in and see how it works in this market," Okuniewicz said. "There are Indian casinos in the market, both just across the border in Washington, and south of Coeur d'Alene for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and those are full-blown gaming enterprises. They have all the accoutrements. These are not that kind of device … but to some degree, I think you're probably hoping you have the same kind of clientele."

Helo Hancock, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's legislative liaison, noted that the tribe didn't take a position on last year's bill.

"I believe it's pretty clear that they misrepresented what they sold the legislators last year," he said. "If the Legislature is OK with a full-on expansion of casino gaming … there should be an open and honest discussion about it."

House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, "At this point, I'm not sure how much we can do. We probably have buyer's remorse from having passed the statute not knowing what exactly was involved. Shame on us for doing that."

Only three locations in Idaho have simulcast betting: Greyhound Park, Les Bois and Sandy Downs in Idaho Falls. More could open, however, if they were tied to horse racing tracks.

Four states — Kentucky, Arkansas, Oregon and Wyoming — allow betting on instant racing machines. Kentucky's horse industry has been trying to expand to casino-style gaming for years, without success.

In January, Les Bois Park officials took members of the House committee on a tour and showed them two earlier generations of the machines, but not the new ones that are on order.

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