Guest Opinions

Idaho horsemen want to race at state tracks; that takes a rise in wagering

The Idaho Horsemen’s Coalition thanks the Idaho Statesman editorial board for your support of the history and heritage of Idaho’s race horse industry (Statesman editorial, Jan. 28). Your conclusions regarding pari-mutuel wagering, however, appeared to be based on a lack of understanding of the relationship between pari-mutuel wagering and live racing.

Pari-mutuel wagering, on live races, simulcast races or historical races, provides a means through which live racing is able to occur. Pari-mutuel wagering generates the revenue to operate racetracks and provide purses attractive enough to draw the best horses from Idaho and the region, which in turn makes the live racing experience more robust.

It presents a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. High-quality horses will not participate in live meets without attractive purses. Attractive purses cannot be generated through live racing alone. Pari-mutuel options also attract participants to racetracks and augment live horse racing attendance.

Since simulcast horse race wagering was approved in the 1980s, a number of factors have negatively affected participation in pari-mutuel wagering and the racehorse industry. The state of Idaho instituted and began aggressively marketing the Idaho Lottery in 1988. Tribal gaming casinos were approved in Idaho in 2002. With today’s technology, an individual can, from any location, participate in simulcast betting — or any other type of gaming — via their laptop, tablet or smartphone without setting foot at a racetrack.

Games have evolved to compete for patrons. The Idaho Lottery has evolved from a time when tickets were purchased over store counters to electronic lottery games and dispensers in bars, convenience stores and grocery stores. As this climate has evolved, so, too, has the horse industry. Historical horse racing pari-mutuel terminals are a part of this evolution, and are a growing trend in other states to augment and support live racing. A legitimate discussion can and should be had about the regulation, siting, look and feel of all electronic gaming machines in Idaho.

Absent pari-mutuel opportunities, Idaho’s major tracks have indicated they will not be able to host live meets in 2016 and will close. This reality is already having an economic impact on an important sector of the Idaho agriculture economy.

Idaho’s horse owners, breeders, boarders and trainers buy Idaho hay, grain, straw and sawdust shavings. They buy tack, trailers, trucks and clothing from Idaho suppliers. They engage the services of Idaho veterinarians and farriers. They pay Idaho wages to their employees, who contribute to Idaho’s economy and pay Idaho taxes.

Idaho’s horsemen are a diverse lot. For some the horse industry is their primary business. Some are small mom-and-pop, family operations with just a few horses. Still others may raise and train a couple of horses as a hobby.

With the prospect of no live racing opportunities in Idaho, many face a decision to race their horses in other states. Larger operators and those with the means to do so will move their horses and trainers elsewhere — and purchase their feed, veterinary services and goods outside of Idaho. Smaller owners may ship their horses out of the state and attempt to follow their progress from afar, but will likely fade out of the industry.

Idaho’s horsemen want to raise, breed, train and race their Idaho horses at Idaho racetracks. They want to promote the history and heritage of the Idaho horse industry for future generations while continuing to be a part of — and contributing to —Idaho’s agriculture economy. Historical horse racing supports live racing opportunities, and Idaho’s horsemen are committed to finding a fair, reasonable and constitutional resolution.

Marta Loveland is with The Idaho Horseman’s Coalition, which includes the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the Idaho Quarter Horse Association, the Idaho Thoroughbred Association, the East Idaho Horsemen’s Association, and the Idaho Horse Council. Membership exceeds 1,200 horsemen who manage, breed, train and race more than 3,000 horses.