Guest Opinions

Preserving Idaho’s horse racing heritage a matter of dollars and cents

Beyond the roar of the grandstands and the nostalgic ties to our Western heritage is the financial reality of what Idaho’s horse racing industry means to our Valley and of course Boise — hundreds of Idaho jobs and tens of millions of dollars in wages, taxes, goods and services.

In the summer of 2015 alone, more than 91,000 patrons attended live races and almost $2 million was paid out in purses. But this summer, the grandstands at Les Bois Park will be silent. The horse stalls and parking lots will be empty. The true economic potential of this place will go unrealized, as the future of the horse racing industry in Idaho could be finished.

It would be shortsighted to think of the impact of this industry only in terms of a live race. It’s not just about horse owners and jockeys, but veterinarians and farriers, food and beverage employees, and feed suppliers. While 285 people are employed at Les Bois during the height of the summer racing season, every 10 jobs directly associated with the racing program supports an additional four jobs in the community.

This fall, Les Bois Park shared an independent Boise State University Economics Department analysis with local and state elected officials of its economic impact on the Treasure Valley. If the park continued operations at 2015 levels, the analysis showed it would generate:

▪ 536 full-time and part-time positions.

▪ $9.9 million in employee compensation.

▪ $5.3 million in other forms of income (spending of suppliers and households).

▪ $35.1 million in increased sales of all goods and services in the Treasure Valley.

The above includes the $2 million in taxes that goes to support Idaho schools, horse council youth programs, the horse breeders association, equine fund and small rural racetracks.

Rather than seek a government handout to help their industry, the private businessmen and women of the Idaho horse racing industry sought a solution to a challenge many industries face. How to evolve with changing times and remain financially viable.

Technology has changed every facet of how we live, work, recreate and enjoy entertainment. Just like newspapers have had to adapt and incorporate different technologies to reach audiences, so has the horse racing industry. Pari-mutuel historical horse racing terminals is that evolution. Their legal and constitutional operation ensures the viability of this industry — establishing a stronger revenue stream to fund more robust operations and larger purses.

While many see the survival of the horse racing industry in terms of preserving our iconic heritage, it is about dollars and cents for me. It’s about the hundreds of jobs in the Treasure Valley both on and off the track and the millions of dollars in payroll and taxes, goods and services.

Beyond that bottom line it’s also about fairness and the free market. It’s about the businessmen and women who invested to evolve their industry to meet the changing marketplace and found success until opinions shifted dramatically. Government should support that, not impede it. I’m looking forward to a thoughtful solution to preserve the considerable economic benefits this industry directly contributes to our state and our Valley.

Scot Ludwig is a Boise councilman, attorney, downtown developer and longtime patron of Les Bois Park.