Guest Opinions

Guest opinion: Repeal of instant racing is not the fault of the Legislature

A new form or gambling, known as historical horse racing and conducted at Idaho simulcast facilities, was authorized by the 2013 session of the Idaho Legislature. Following adjournment of the 2013 legislative session, it was discovered that historical horse racing is more commonly known as instant racing and that wagering on these races was not exactly like wagering on simulcasts of live racing, except that the races had been run in the past, as had been represented to legislators by the executive director of the Idaho Racing Commission.

The director of the Idaho Racing Commission did not tell the legislators:

• That the games to be played as historical racing had been contested and disallowed in most other state jurisdictions.

• That although the outcome of a race run in the past determines part of the game outcome, other elements of the game outcome are determined randomly by a number generator, functioning similar to a slot machine.

• That the player terminals are designed to simulate and imitate slot machines, which is prohibited by Article III, Section 20, Constitution of the State of Idaho.

• That for the system to be profitable, rapid play by the bettor is the goal of the operation of the player terminal.

• Further, the executive director of the Idaho Racing Commission did not disclose that, in his previous position as executive director of the Wyoming Pari-Mutuel Commission, he had received Wyoming attorney general opinions concluding that the instant racing machines are illegal slot machines designed to look like a pari-mutuel event and that the Wyoming Supreme Court had confirmed the attorney general’s opinion.

Now, Treasure Valley Racing, LLC, a for-profit business that is the current lessee of Les Bois Park, Garden City, claims, in paid advertising, that passage of SB 1011 by the Legislature, which repeals the 2013 historical racing law, will cause the grandstands at Les Bois Park to be “shuttered,” the horse stalls will be “empty,” more than 500 jobs will be lost, and the state will lose millions of dollars in tax revenue. Treasure Valley Racing places the blame for these events on the Idaho Legislature for passing S1011. Such claims are completely unwarranted, patently false and unfair to the more than two-thirds of the members of the Legislature that supported passage of SB 1011.

How much of the racing commission executive director’s knowledge of “instant racing” was shared with the investors in Treasure Valley Racing is unknown. But the record is clear that the executive director, as an Idaho state official, did not share that knowledge and background with the Legislature when requesting passage of the legislation in 2013. That failure is deception by omission and cannot be blamed on the Legislature.

The Idaho Constitution, Article 111, Section 20, prohibits “gambling” unless, as is applicable to this issue, it is “pari-mutuel betting conducted in conformity with enabling legislation.” The Constitution also provides that, although betting is pari-mutuel, the activity cannot employ a slot machine, or “employ any electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of casino gambling,” which includes a slot machine. The games currently being played at Les Bois Park are not pari-mutuel under Idaho’s pari-mutuel laws, and are also designed to imitate and operate like slot machines.

The Treasure Valley Racing group’s paid newspaper advertising states that they have “a combined 250 years in business in this state, having started multiple companies that employ thousands, paid millions in taxes and contributed tens of millions to philanthropic causes.” There is no question that this is a true statement and their contributions to the community have been of inestimable value; but it has nothing to do with the legality of their instant racing business at Les Bois Park.

The adage that “it is better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission” may well have been applicable to the present situation. But, in this instance, Treasure Valley Racing’s advertising is not a statement of contrition — it is a threat. If Treasure Valley Racing terminates its revenue sharing lease of Les Bois Park with the county, closure of the grandstands will be made by the Ada County Commission, not Treasure Valley Racing. It will not be the fault of Idaho’s Legislature.

Enactment of SB 1011 is essential if Idaho’s constitutional restrictions on the expansion of gambling are to be enforced. The public should thank the Legislature for passing SB 1022 and observing Idaho’s constitutional prohibitions on gambling adopted by the voters in 1992.