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Instant horse racing ban in effect, governor’s veto invalid; Les Bois ‘reviewing all of our options’

Update: The Associated Press reports Secretary of State Lawerence Denney on Friday certified the law repealing instant racing. But when the machines must be unplugged is still unclear.

“We are working with legal counsel to determine the timeline and process to enforce the Supreme Court’s ruling. We will do a press release when we get that figured out exactly,” Idaho State Police spokesperson Teresa Baker told the Statesman Friday morning.

As soon as Secretary of State Lawerence Denney certifies a law passed this year by the Legislature, the Idaho Racing Commission will issue a cease-and-desist order and instant horse racing will end its run in Idaho.

Denney was out of the office Thursday when the Idaho Supreme Court issued its ruling on Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of the measure.

Idaho Racing Commission Chairman Paul J. Schneider told the Statesman that he expects, but has not confirmed, that Denney will complete his court-ordered task on Friday.

FUMBLED VETO

Also known as historical horse racing, the machines allow bettors to place wages on horse races run in the past and replayed without identifying information. The machines have spinning wheels, sounds and animations that mimic slot machines. Idaho lawmakers approved the machines in 2013 but passed legislation banning them this year after critics said the machines are essentially slot machines, which are illegal in Idaho.

A bill automatically becomes law in the state — even if the governor doesn’t sign it — unless it is vetoed within five days.

Once the bill outlawing the machines reached Otter’s desk, the governor delayed releasing news of his veto decision. Otter said he put off announcing the veto so he could talk to lawmakers over the Easter weekend rather than have them learn about it in the press.

The Idaho Senate failed to override the governor’s veto on a 19-16 vote. Instead, statements by Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and Secretary Jennifer Novak were entered into the Senate journal stating that the Senate failed to receive the governor’s veto within five days.

In its unanimous decision issued Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Otter did not veto the bill within the required time span.

Otter said he was “disappointed” in the ruling and maintained that his actions were legal.

“I stand by my word as well as my earlier decision to veto this legislation. It is clear the Senate took up my veto and voted to uphold it,” Otter said. “While I disagree with today’s ruling, I will continue working toward a solution that ensures a viable live horse racing industry in Idaho.”

Hear Gov. Otter speak in April about his veto:

‘FRIVOLOUS AND DISINGENUOUS’

A lawsuit by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe focused on Denney’s refusal to certify the bill into law, raising the question of Otter’s veto procedure in the process.

Justice Daniel Eismann, in a concurring opinion, had critical words for Denney and Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane.

“The deputy attorney general would apparently have us believe that the governor timely returned the original of the bill to some phantom senator, who gave the bill back to the governor, and then the governor later returned the original of the bill to the Senate Pro Tempore. There are certainly no facts supporting that fantasy,” wrote Eismann.

Of Denney, Eismann wrote, “Based upon the undisputed facts known to the Secretary of State, his obligation was clear and unambiguous. He had the statutory duty to certify the fact that the bill had become law. … The Secretary of State should have done exactly what the iconic former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa did when the governor did not timely veto and return a bill — he refused to recognize the veto.”

The court awarded attorney fees to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe because the state’s arguments were “frivolous and disingenuous.” That amount is not known.

“This pivotal decision reaffirms that even Idaho’s highest elected officials must follow the constitution,” said Coeur d’Alene Tribe Chief James Allan, chairman of the tribe.

See one of the machines in action:

DEATH KNELL FOR HORSE RACING?

The court’s decision is a huge blow to the thoroughbred industry, whose officials have pleaded that the machines are vital to keeping their businesses afloat. About 250 of the machines are installed in three locations across Idaho, including 200 at Les Bois Park in Garden City.

Treasure Valley Racing, which operates live, simulcast and instant racing at Les Bois, spent more than $4 million on instant racing terminals and upgrades to the Turf Club.

Les Bois told employees in March that if the ban resumed, it would force the closure of the park. Jockeys and others involved in the horse track’s operations spoke about their concerns in April, after the veto.

“Treasure Valley Racing is obviously extremely disappointed in the court’s ruling,” Treasure Valley Racing President John Sheldon said in a statement. “It comes on the heels of a 32-day live race schedule at Les Bois Park that would not have occurred without the infusion that historical horse racing brings to this industry. A season that disbursed nearly $2 million in purses to horsemen, employed 280 Idahoans, and contributed $2.67 million in taxes.

“We are currently reviewing all of our options and assessing the significant impact that complying with the court’s order will have on the immediate and long-term future of Les Bois Park.”

Another group of the racing terminals in Idaho Falls, operated at a site away from a track, attracted separate criticism. The Idaho Falls Post Register reported this week that the Idaho Racing Commission suspended Double Down Betting, Sports Bar and Grill’s license to operate the terminals, saying it failed to get proper county approval to operate an off-track betting parlor as required by state law.

The Associated Press contributed.

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