Coeur d’Alene Indians traditionally gathered for rendezvous in the area that now is Post Falls, holding horse races, stick games and other gambling events.
Now, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe is proposing to bring horse racing back to the Inland Northwest by opening a track in Post Falls, perhaps on the site of the former greyhound track.
“It’d be a lot of fun, entertaining,” said Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Ernie Stensgar. Plus, he said, the project possibly could employ 250 people, doubling tribal employment.
“We see a tremendous opportunity,” said David Matheson, director of gaming for the tribe. He noted that Playfair Race Course across the state line in Spokane hasn’t had any horse racing since 1995, although officials are trying to get the track reopened this month.
To move ahead, the tribe would need to buy the property and apply to have it placed in trust. That requires approval from both the U.S. secretary of the interior and the governor. It essentially would make the property part of the tribe’s reservation.
Stensgar, Matheson and tribal attorney Ray Givens met with Gov. Phil Batt to broach the idea Wednesday and found him non-commital.
“I’m making no prejudgment on what they’re planning,” Batt said after the meeting. “I have the same concern I’ve always had, which is that whatever gaming that takes place on reservations should not exceed that which is allowed under our constitution for the rest of the people of Idaho.” Horse racing is legal in Idaho, and Batt said he has “no problem with anybody being involved with it.”
But the state has differed with Idaho tribes over whether video pull-tab machines fall within the law. The Coeur d’Alenes have many of the profitable machines at their Worley, Idaho bingo casino. Ideally, they’d like to move that whole operation to Post Falls to join the new horse-racing operation.
“That’d be closer to our market, which is Spokane,” Stensgar said. The plans are preliminary, and Stensgar said the tribe won’t go ahead unless the community and the governor like the idea.
“We’re not going to do a $100,000 feasibility study if everyone in the community is saying ‘no, we don’t want the tribe up here,’ if the governor is saying ‘I don’t want the tribe up here.’ “So we’re going to talk to people in Post Falls and Kootenai County, as we’ve talked to the governor,” Stensgar said.
The dog track is now owned by the Alabama-based Greene Group, which has leased it to Les Bois Racing of Boise. That group is running off-track betting in Post Falls, but no live racing. The tribe intends to continue the off-track betting.
Dog racing was outlawed early this year, after the track went millions into debt and state legislators heard concerns about poor treatment of the racing dogs. A new law made special allowance for off-track betting on horse racing to continue indefinitely at the Post Falls facility. Betting on simulcasts of dog races was allowed to continue for three years, which is the length of Les Bois’ contract.
The tribe has put in an offer on the dog track, but is also considering other locations, Matheson said.
If the Greyhound Park were the location, the tribe anticipates using the grandstands and at least some of the buildings, plus building a new track for live horse racing.
Matheson said the tribe would use a combination of its own and conventional financing, and is not at this point considering bringing in a partner.
If it moves the bingo casino to Post Falls, Matheson said the tribe would use its existing building in Worley for its long-planned National Indian Lottery.
That project, a lottery with tickets purchased by phone from across the country, has faced delays because of opposition from various states.
AT&T; also refused to grant the tribe telephone access nationwide.
The tribe sued the long-distance carrier and won in tribal court. But that decision has been appealed to the tribal appellate court, where arguments are scheduled for February.