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Idaho tribes seek halt to ‘instant racing’ betting machines

BOISE – The chairmen of four Idaho Indian tribes on Tuesday called on the state’s governor and attorney general to end the spread of so-called “instant racing” betting machines – like those at the Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls – saying they violate Idaho’s gambling laws.

The machines purport to be a new form of “pari-mutuel” betting on horse races, which is legal in Idaho. In pari-mutuel betting, all those with winning bets share the pool of money wagered on the race, minus taxes and fees. The machines don’t display current horse races; they show a snippet of the end of an unidentified past horse race.

The tribal chairmen called the spread of the new machines an “illegal hoax.” They were approved by state lawmakers in 2013 at the urging of Idaho’s horse racing industry, which said allowing betting on past, or “historical” horse races, would help cash-strapped racetracks continue to be able to offer live racing.

Doug Okuniewicz, general manager of the Greyhound Park and Event Center, said the tribes are demonstrating a double standard.

“The entity that says it is not subject to any state regulation now wants to ask that same state to use its regulatory authority to put the regulated entity out of business so the unregulated entity can have a monopoly,” Okuniewicz said.

The slot machine-like machines have tiny screens in one corner on which the last few seconds of one horse race after another is shown while operators bet and reels spin with symbols. When they started showing up at Idaho tracks last spring, some lawmakers said they’d been “duped.”

So far, the instant racing machines have been installed at Greyhound Park, Les Bois Park near Boise and an off-track sports bar in Idaho Falls.

“All you have to do is go play them and ask yourself if you are actually betting on a horse race,” said Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. “It’s a hoax that has consistently been found illegal in other states, and these machines will continue to make a mockery out of the law until Idaho does something to stop it.”

Okuniewicz said the horse racing industry welcomes and embraces the state’s regulatory role, while the Indian casinos fight or ignore any state regulation of their devices.

“If anyone is being duped,” he said, “it is all of us that are being subjected to the fiction of calling a slot machine a ‘tribal video gaming device.’ ”

In their letter to Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, dated Tuesday, the tribal leaders – from the Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute tribes – noted a 2006 ruling by the Wyoming Supreme Court, which found the machines were “a slot machine that attempts to mimic traditional pari-mutuel wagering.”

“We look forward to working together with the State of Idaho to get this obvious double standard addressed,” said Gary Aitken, chairman of the Kootenai Tribe.

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Wasden, said, “We are reviewing the letter and will discuss its contents with the Legislature and the governor.”

Idaho tribes offer slot machine-like betting machines at their tribal casinos, under compacts signed with the state pursuant to the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

“Collectively, Idaho tribes represent a top-10 employer in the state with a nearly $1 billion impact on the state’s economy,” Allan said. “We play by the rules, and we’re proud that our gaming operations have allowed us to make contributions to better the lives of the people of Idaho. But the potential for limitless, illegal gaming in every county in Idaho puts that at risk in a big way.”

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe proposed a tribal casino at the Greyhound Park in 1998, but the state said no, saying tribal gaming should stay on the reservation. But the new “instant racing” machines can be located at any facility authorized to offer betting on simulcasts of horse races, with up to one location allowed in each of Idaho’s 44 counties and no limits on the numbers of machines.

Otter had no immediate comment.

Staff writer Scott Maben contributed to this report.