A day after the Idaho Supreme Court kept the Legislature’s new ban on instant racing machines in place, blocking Gov. Butch Otter’s attempted veto, Les Bois Park in Garden City announced that it had shut down its machines and laid off “80 workers involved in those operations.”
The park’s Turf Club restaurant, bar and simulcast wagering area are still open.
“We are assessing the future viability of operating Les Bois Park and conducting a live meet next year,” Treasure Valley Racing President John Sheldon said in a news release.
He told The Associated Press that the layoffs covered about 80 percent of his Turf Club workforce. “Without historical racing, from our perspective, there will be no more live racing at Les Bois Park,” he said.
Treasure Valley Racing spent more than $4 million on 200 instant racing terminals and related upgrades to the Turf Club. Park management told employees in March that if the ban went into place, it would force Les Bois’ closure.
The instant racing machines allow bettors to place wages on horse races run in the past that are 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 argued that the machines are essentially slot machines, which are illegal in Idaho.
Otter said he would veto the legislation, but didn’t meet a required five-day deadline to do so. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which does have slots, sued over the error, seeking to force Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to certify the original bill into law. Denney did so Friday.
The rest of the instant racing machines were split between horse racing parks in Idaho Falls and Post Falls. Double Down Betting Sports Bar and Grill in Idaho Falls laid off 12 people Friday, and co-owner Melissa Bernard said she might have to let more go very soon.
“We’re devastated,” Bernard said after turning off 40 machines. “The lawmakers enacted a law, and we invested because of the law. It’s a sad day for Idaho.”
The Spokesman-Review reported that the head of the company that operates Post Falls’ Greyhound Park Event Center was out of the office Friday and couldn’t be reached, but that the park’s 35 machines had been turned off.
Bernard and Sheldon said they would keep the machines as they review their options, one of which could be recommending legislation in 2016 that would attempt to strike a compromise among lawmakers and track owners.
Such efforts likely would face very long odds.