Guest Opinions

Legislature complicit in death of an Idaho industry: Horse racing

Edward J. McNelis.
Edward J. McNelis.

The 1964 Legislature had vision and understood its role in helping industries grow and flourish. They knew that free enterprise creates jobs, invests, improves opportunity for citizens and grows the economy. Their vision and actions led the way for growth and enhancement of Idaho while maintaining our culture and lifestyle. They understood that government does not grow value, create jobs or expand the economy that provides the base from which they receive their income. It was a partnership with business, and it was their responsibility to remove barriers, protect and not compete. Business and industry would flourish, grow, employ citizens of the state and expand the economy.

That Legislature understood that agriculture was our largest industry and that communities depended on it for their existence and growth. The horse industry has always been large in Idaho. Helping it grow would make it a leader in the region and nation. They passed the pari-mutuel legislation for the industry and it grew and flourished, helping Idaho lead the world in ratio of horses to people and become the regional leader. Huge value was created across the state as citizens purchased real estate, built homes, constructed facilities and acquired equipment. Small communities enjoyed the benefits and lifestyle associated with the growing industry, increased tax base and economic activity.

The Legislature put the state into gaming in 1987 by passing the lottery. They began competing against the very industry they had partnered with to grow. The lottery had huge advantages including availability, convenience and low delivery cost. The industry lost the funding that created the engine for growth as the state gaming took away their income. The state crushed the industry and did nothing to fix what they had destroyed.

Youths have been a huge benefactor of the horse industry. Our state has always benefited greatly from the huge numbers of volunteer leaders who spend their time, energy and resources developing and leading youth programs. The industry has always supported youth development programs, 4-H and FFA. The volunteer leaders and these programs develop our youths into great citizens and keep them occupied and developing life skills while successfully guiding them through their formidable years. These youth programs, communities and these wonderful leaders were greatly impacted as the horse industry struggled to survive.

The industry came to the 2013 Legislature with a form of gaming that is used in several states to help the industry survive and grow. The Legislature passed the legislation and the industry started on a path to recovery. In 2015 the Legislature joined with the tribes, who have their own casinos and gaming, to vilify the horse industry and took away its bridge to survival.

The Legislature and tribes have a gaming monopoly. Legislators receive monies from the tribes for their support. The Legislature took action that caused the industry to fail and never attempted to help it survive. Times have changed. We are starting to look and act like Washington, D.C.

Fifty-thousand jobs.

Edward J. McNelis, of Nampa, is a retired banker now engaged in ranching, is passionate about freedom, fairness, free enterprise, proper government and Idaho.