Elections

Horse-race backers say they've reached their goal, setting up a fall vote on gambling

Instant horse racing: What the machine looks like

Demonstration in 2015 of a historical racing betting machine at Les Bois Park's Turf Club in Garden City, Idaho.
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Demonstration in 2015 of a historical racing betting machine at Les Bois Park's Turf Club in Garden City, Idaho.

After hundreds of hours of knocking on doors, pounding the pavement and working the crowds at events, organizers of a statewide initiative to legalize certain gambling machines say they have enough signatures to get their proposal on Idaho's November ballot.

Save Idaho Horse Racing will deliver its signatures to county clerk's offices around the state Tuesday.

To get a citizen initiative on Idaho ballots statewide, you must have signatures equaling 6 percent of the state’s registered voters as of the last general election. The signatures must come from at least 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts.

To meet this requirement for 2018, petitioners for each initiative had until April 30 to gather 56,192 signatures.

Save Idaho Horse Racing says it has collected 114,815 signatures, according to spokesman Todd Dvorak. "We believe we have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot."

If the measure reaches the ballot, it may have company. The Medicaid for Idaho initiative, which calls for expanding Medicaid eligibility in this state, is submitting more than 60,000 signatures its organizers say will clear muster.

County clerks have until June 30 to validate the signatures, which will then be submitted to the Secretary of State's Office by July 6 for final approval.

The Save Idaho Horse Racing proposal would legalize gambling terminals that let you bet on the results of past horse races at locations where live or simulcast horse racing occurs, including Ada County’s Les Bois Park.

In 2013, the Idaho Legislature legalized the gambling machines, only to repeal them in 2015. Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of the repeal failed on a technicality. Since then, the horse racing community has been trying to find a way to legalize historical horse racing in Idaho, saying its revenue is needed to make live racing viable. Meanwhile, Les Bois stands closed.

In all, four statewide initiatives were in the works this election cycle. The other two, an abortion ban and and legalizing medical marijuana, dropped out early.

The Medicaid expansion initiative met with little resistance while canvassing for signatures. But the same cannot be said about the historical horse racing initiative.

Save Idaho Horse Racing has accused an organization connected to the Coeur d'Alene Tribe of bribing, harassing, following and intimidating campaign workers collecting signatures

Campaign workers have filed complaints with the Ada County Sheriff's Office and Coeur d'Alene Police Department alleging intimidation and harassment. Those complaints are still pending.

The North Idaho Voter Project, a political action committee connected to the tribe, told The Associated Press the allegations are not true. The tribe owns a casino in Worley.

In a counter-attack, Save Idaho Horse Racing conducted a live phone campaign that offered to help Idahoans call the tribe and convey their discontent. Recipients of the calls were told:

"Idaho’s democratic process is under attack. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s political group has hired paid thugs to intimidate voters and stop campaign staff. They even committed a felony by bribing our signature gathers to stop working. Whether you support horse racing or not, we cannot let this assault on the democratic process go unanswered. Can I transfer to the tribal council right now for free and you can tell them to stop intimidating voters and illegally bribing campaign staff?"

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe on Monday declined to comment on the phone campaign and the criminal allegations.

Marta Loveland, president of Idaho Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association talks about the personal and economic impact that the closing of Les Bois Park has had on horse owners and the horse racing industry in Idaho.

Cynthia Sewell is the Idaho Statesman politics and watchdog reporter. Contact her at csewell@idahostatesman.com, (208) 377-6428 or @CynthiaSewell on Twitter.
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