Elections

Idaho blocks historical horse racing measure

Yes or no on Idaho’s Proposition 1, horse racing and gambling

Speakers sum up the arguments for and against Proposition 1, the effort to bring back historical horse racing machines on Idaho's November 2018 ballot.
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Speakers sum up the arguments for and against Proposition 1, the effort to bring back historical horse racing machines on Idaho's November 2018 ballot.

Idaho voters Tuesday night rejected an initiative to allow historical horse racing — machines that allow people to gamble on recordings of horse races, rather than live events.

As of 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, 54.2 percent of votes were against the controversial proposal.

Millions of dollars were spent promoting and fighting the measure, the latest attempt by the owners of Treasure Valley Racing to legalize the machines. They and others in the racing industry say the devices are needed to help subsidize racetracks and boost purses, improving live horse racing.

Proponents said Prop 1 would boost Idaho’s horse racing industry and economy, helping to fund schools. Opponents said it would send the state down a path of gambling and casinos.

“Today’s vote proves what we’ve been saying all along – Proposition 1 was a bad bet for Idahoans,” Ken Andrus and Ernie Stensgar of Idaho United Against Prop 1 said in an emailed statement regarding the election results. “Idahoans do not want a statewide expansion of casino-style gambling. Idaho United Against Prop 1 is grateful for the thousands of state, local, and tribal community leaders, businesses, elected officials, educators and families who helped us share the truth about Prop 1 with Idahoans and to the voters who saw through the deception of this ballot initiative and chose to vote no.”

What is historical racing? Also known as instant racing, it allows people to place bets on past horse races that are replayed without any identifying information. Along with their spinning wheels, sounds and animations, the terminals they use have small screens to display the replays.

The Idaho Legislature approved historical horse racing in 2013. Two years later, lawmakers repealed the measure, saying the terminals resembled slot machines more than video replay devices.

Gov. Butch Otter vetoed the repeal in April 2015, but not quickly enough for the veto to survive a court challenge.

Proposition 1 authorizes historical horse racing at locations authorized by the state to conduct live or simulcast racing. To qualify, tracks must hold at least eight live days of racing annually. Live and simulcast racing sites must be approved by the local county commission and the state racing commission.

How much would Idaho’s schools get from the wagering?

For every dollar, 90 cents would be awarded to bettors. Nine cents would go to expenses, race purses and profit for the operator. One cent would to the Idaho Racing Commission — and of that, half a cent would go to Idaho public schools.

If the proposition passed, a big question would be whether it could survive a court challenge. The Idaho Attorney General’s Office in a January analysis suggested it may take a court ruling to decide if the machines are legal pari-mutuel gambling, like live horse racing, or a facsimile of “casino gambling” banned by the Idaho Constitution. Advocates were encouraged last month when a Kentucky judge ruled the machines are legal there.

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