Eye On Boise

Some Idaho lawmakers feeling gamed over 'instant racing'

When the Coeur d’Alene Tribe wanted to buy the former greyhound racetrack in Post Falls and turn it into a casino in 1998, Idaho Gov. Phil Batt said no – tribal gaming should stay on the reservation. That restriction became state law in 2002, after it was written into the voter initiative that legalized tribal gaming in Idaho. Now, however, gambling on slot machine-like devices is coming to the Greyhound Park, prompting some Idaho legislators to complain they were “duped” into approving the new form of betting last year.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe sees a double standard. “It’s an economic threat to the tribe, no question about it, if you have that kind of gaming,” said Bill Roden, the tribe’s Boise lobbyist. “And it’s sort of ironic that the governor said ‘No’ to us.”

The kind of gaming in question is done on machines called “Instant Racing.” They have tiny, 2-inch screens in an upper corner on which the last few seconds of one horse race after another is shown, while operators bet and video slot machine-like reels spin with symbols. They’re considered parimutuel betting, like betting on horse races, because the risk is pooled among players around the country betting on various historical races. That concept is being challenged in court in Kentucky, however.

Early in this year’s legislative session, the House State Affairs Committee balked at the new rules to implement last year’s “historical horse racing” law, which was billed as allowing betting on randomly generated broadcasts of past horse races, and voted to reject them. Its Senate counterpart didn’t, however. The rules referred to the new type of gaming as “instant racing.” Four states – Kentucky, Arkansas, Oregon and Wyoming – now allow betting on “instant racing” machines. The rules also allow just a portion, rather than all, of a “historical” horse race to be shown to bettors.

House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said he considered a last-minute resolution to reject those portions of the rules, but instead reached an agreement with the state Racing Commission that it would issue new rules, removing the reference to “instant racing” and letting the player decide whether to watch all or part of the race in question – not the house. Loertscher said he was especially surprised to see the reference to betting on “instant racing” in the rules. “They’ve agreed that’s not in the statute,” he said.

But taking the phrase out of the rules won’t force any change in the machines. “At this point, I’m not sure how much we can do,” Loertscher said. “We probably have buyers’ remorse from having passed the statute not knowing what exactly was involved. Shame on us for doing that.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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