Former governor candidates split on horse-racing vote. Garden City’s mayor opposes it

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.

Historical horse racing opponents and proponents are off and running in a race to win over Idaho voters, who on Nov. 5 will decide the fate of Proposition 1.

The proposal would allow people to use slot-machine-like terminals to bet on the results of past horse races. The machines would be allowed at locations where live and simulcast horse racing takes place at least eight days annually, including Ada County’s Les Bois Park. This form of betting is known as “historical” or “instant” horse racing.

In 2013, the Idaho Legislature legalized the gambling machines, only to repeal them in 2015. Gov. Butch Otter tried to veto the repeal, but that attempt 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. This year, supporters gathered enough signatures to put the proposal on the ballot.

On Wednesday, a coalition against the gambling machines launched its campaign.

Idaho United Against Prop 1 members include former state Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs; Coeur d’Alene Tribe Chairman Ernie Stensgar; AJ Balukoff, a former Democratic candidate for governor and Boise School District trustee; Garden City Mayor John Evans; Idaho Sens. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene; and Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh.

“Proposition 1 is about slot machines, not horses, and any attempt by proponents to suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best,” said Andrus in a news release Wednesday. “We need to protect our communities. I encourage every voter to do their research and take the time to learn what this proposition is really about and the impact it could have on our quality of life.”

The group supporting the proposal, Save Idaho Horse Racing, says Proposition 1 will “restore and revive Idaho’s horse racing industry ... bring back the hundreds of jobs horse racing creates” and “provide funding for Idaho schools.”

Under Proposition 1, a percentage of money wagered will go to public schools, the state racing commission and track- and horse-related funds.

On Wednesday, Eagle businessman and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist announced his support of legalizing the gambling machines.

“Proposition 1 is the direct result of government getting in the way of business and the private investment so critical to putting people to work and dollars into our state and local economies,” said Ahlquist in a letter he sent to his campaign supporters. “I’m urging all who supported my candidacy to vote ‘Yes’ for the campaign to save our state’s live horse racing industry and the benefits it will bring to public schools, rural economies and our state’s horse industry.”

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 Idaho Statesman’s government and investigative reporter. Contact her at (208) 377-6428, csewell@idahostatesman.com, or @CynthiaSewell on Twitter.