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Off-track betting bill advances

Panel sends proposal to House for vote

BOISE – A state House committee passed a plan Friday to expand off-track betting in Idaho, part of a push by horse-racing proponents to increase the industry’s economic viability by allowing operations in lucrative locations such as Sun Valley or McCall.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 10-7 to allow eight Idaho simulcast license holders to offer off-track betting in restaurants or bars involving racing from around the country and world. The plan now goes to the full chamber for a vote.

Betting on simulcast races is allowed now in Idaho but only at the rustic county fairgrounds in Blackfoot, Burley, Emmett, Rupert, Jerome, Idaho Falls, Malad City and Pocatello, where a limited slate of live races is offered every year.

In order to succeed, off-track betting facilities must offer comfortable seating, food and other amenities to lure paying customers to play the ponies, proponents said.

Under the bill, each of the county fairs with a simulcast license could offer off-track betting in the same county – or negotiate with another county – to set up shop, provided local government officials sign off on such deals.

For instance, the track in Jerome could negotiate a deal with a restaurant or hotel in Sun Valley, while track officials in Emmett, located in an agricultural valley north of Boise, might see the vacation destination of McCall to the north as a potentially attractive partner.

“What they’re wanting is to go to a proper place,” Duayne Didericksen, a district director with the Idaho Quarter Horse Association, said after the hearing. “It could be a restaurant or a sports bar, like the Ram. Or you could have a hotel in Sun Valley, where guests from the East Coast and California are familiar with horse racing.”

The bill would apply to Les Bois Park in Boise, if it resumes live meets that were shuttered last year.

Simulcast racing is significantly more profitable than live racing, so county tracks see the plan as a way to bolster their finances.

Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett and the bill’s sponsor, said the off-track betting expansion would benefit small tracks and their live racing operations.

For instance, the simulcast operations would have to pay a minimum of 1 percent of the gross daily receipts to any track operation that ran fewer than 15 race days during the preceding calendar year, something that applies to all of Idaho’s small county tracks, according to the measure. Another 1 percent of the daily receipts would go to the purses of live races.