Idaho Secretary of State announces racing initiative has qualified for November ballot

Backers of an initiative to legalize betting machines at Idaho horse racing tracks, including jockey Nikeela Black, second from left, carry boxes of signed petitions into the Idaho Secretary of State’s office on Thursday, June 28, 2018. (Betsy Z. Russell / Idaho Press-Tribune)

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney announced Tuesday that the proposed initiative to authorize “historical horse racing” machines in Idaho has qualified for the November ballot.

Denney’s office spent the past 10 days reviewing the boxes of petitions, with signatures already verified by county clerks, that the initiative’s backers turned in. It determined there were over 59,000 valid signatures of registered Idaho voters — surpassing the required 56,192. Also, the measure needed valid signatures from 6 percent of the voters in each of at least 18 Idaho legislative districts. Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst said Tuesday, “It met the mark in 20.”

The profitable betting machines, also called “instant racing,” were briefly legal in Idaho, and were installed at three racing-related locations around the state, including Les Bois Park in Boise. But the Legislature then determined that the machines were too much like illegal slot machines, and repealed the law authorizing them.

Supporters say adding the revenue from the lucrative machines is the only way live horse racing can survive in Idaho. Les Bois Park shut down after the machines went dark, though limited live horse racing has continued in other locations, including Sandy Downs in eastern Idaho.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is among the measure’s backers.

“Horse racing has a long and storied history in Idaho. It’s a big business and important to our state,” Otter said in a statement. “We’re home to many great breeders, trainers, jockeys and other industry professionals. Like rodeo, horse racing reflects Idaho’s western rural roots and a continuing connection to our cowboy heritage.”

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office has now begun a similar process of tallying up the valid signatures turned in for another proposed initiative, to expand Medicaid in Idaho. Hurst said the office hopes to complete its tally by early next week, and announce whether that measure, too, will appear on the November ballot.