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Pam Roylance: Idaho’s horse industry relies on a healthy horse racing environment

The initiative to save Idaho horse racing is now Proposition 1 on this November’s ballot. It’s time for all of us – those who signed it, who love horses and horse racing and who understand the value horse racing has for our economy and Idaho traditions – to go to work for its passage.

During the 2015 Legislature, lobbying efforts against historic horse racing by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the National Indian Gaming Association effectively ended horse racing in Idaho and created a monopoly for largely unregulated, non-taxpaying tribal casinos. The Indian gaming association is committed to blocking expansion of any gaming wherever it might be perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be competition for tribal casinos. It should be noted that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan serves on the governing boards of both organizations.

Besides public education losing approximately $1 million annually, hundreds of jobs at tracks, breeding farms and related businesses have disappeared; livelihoods are now considerably reduced or even gone for many professionals in the industry, including farriers, veterinarians and trainers. Businesses providing feed, bedding and equipment for race horses have taken huge economic hits or closed. Many horse breeders have ceased operations or moved elsewhere for better racing opportunities.

These losses have negatively affected all horse owners. Scarcity of bulk shavings deliveries for stall bedding and closure of a historic tack shop are a few examples. Consider the horses used for dressage, hunter jumper competition, barrel racing, eventing, ranch and rodeo work, endurance competition, 4-H and general pleasure. It’s likely all of these horses have a close racehorse relative.

America’s horse industry is a giant pyramid, with thoroughbred racing at the top. Other breeds and various disciplines, including other racing breeds, make up layers down through the pyramid. Anything that affects thoroughbred racing – good or bad – eventually affects the entire pyramid. This is the only time “trickle down” works!

Progress, improvements and innovations for our horses in nutrition, vaccines, reproduction, treatment of injuries, surgical techniques, equipment, etc., have mostly come about because of thoroughbred racing. That’s where the money is. But all other horse breeds and their activities have directly and indirectly benefited. The Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation is one example of a private organization that donates millions of dollars to veterinary schools for equine research and development.

Idaho’s Constitution specifically allows parimutuel wagering, where wagers are pooled and at least 90 percent of wagers are returned to bettors. More than 20 states allow additional revenue enhancements at racetracks. Notably, Kentucky, Wyoming, Oregon, Arkansas, Oklahoma and, most recently, Virginia and Illinois specifically allow historic horse racing.

In addition to the pooled payouts, another factor distinguishes parimutuel wagering from casino gambling: The “element of skill” that can be involved in placing a wager. Likewise, business enterprises, especially agriculture, in Idaho use elements of skill in their daily operations. If they didn’t, certain actions or decisions become “losing bets.” Nothing we do today can be done the same way as 50 or even 30 years ago. Agriculture, manufacturing, construction, health care, entertainment – all have made necessary economic adjustments.

About 10 years ago, a survey commissioned by the Idaho Horse Board and conducted by the University of Idaho found that Idaho has more horses per capita than any other state. This means many Idahoans with an interest in the “health” of the Idaho horse industry are voting with both hearts and pocketbooks.

Politics aside, Idahoans of good conscience should reject self-serving actions by any entities or persons that would harm or destroy the livelihoods or lifestyles of others, which is effectively what the repeal of historic horse racing has done statewide.

Please vote “Yes” on Proposition 1.

Pam Roylance lives in Owyhee County and is past president of the Des Arab Arabian Horse Association and past president and founding member of the Idaho Arabian Racing Association.


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