Guest Opinions

Historical horse racing measure is complex and confusing — we vote no

Here’s a trusted piece of advice when assessing proposals to amend Idaho laws: When in doubt, vote no.

Proposition 1 on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot would legalize video terminals at Idaho’s existing race tracks to allow gamblers to wager on past horse races without knowing the outcomes. It is a complex and confusing measure, and one whose impact can’t be fully predicted.

The lack of clarity of the unintended consequences of the measure’s passage causes us to recommend a “No” vote on the proposition.

Two well-funded behemoths are bumping bellies on the proposal, which appears on the ballot as the Committee to Save Idaho Horse Racing, Create Jobs and Fund Public Schools.

The committee is made up of horse racing interests, which see the opportunity to shore up revenue at their tracks. The main backer is Treasure Valley Racing, which operates Les Bois Park at the Ada County fairgrounds.

If passed, the initiative would allow operators of tracks that hold eight days annually of live horse racing to install the so-called instant racing terminals, with customers betting on the results.

Opposing the measure is the Coeur d’Alene Indian tribe, which operates Idaho’s largest gambling venue, the Coeur d’Alene Casino in Plummer. The tribe is concerned that expanding video gaming to the horse tracks will steal business from its casino.

The opposition has raised more than $2.7 million, all but $5,000 coming directly from the tribe. Proponents have raised $3.5 million, all from Treasure Valley Racing.

Backers of Prop 1 make much of the fact that funds from historical horse racing would help fund public schools. That is true. The initiative sets aside one-half of one percent of betting proceeds for the Public-School Income Fund. But to urge people to vote for the initiative as a means of increasing funding for Idaho’s schools is a bit of a stretch.

The charges by the opponents of the initiative that it is all about gambling are also true. The tracks are currently shut out of the lucrative video gaming business, which has been used to save horse racing in a number of states. (They had the terminals for a while after the Legislature legalized them, but lawmakers reversed their decision in 2015.)

But it is disingenuous for Idaho’s largest gambling operation to preach about the dangers of wagering. Their objection rests entirely with protecting their franchise, and not in serving the public interest.

Still, Proposition 1 does not seem a safe bet. The impact is uncertain, as is the constitutionality of the measure. If it passes, Idaho likely will face legal challenges before it can be implemented.

The best bet is a no vote.

Unsigned editorials represent the opinion of the Statesman editorial board.

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