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Eye On Boise

Fact check: Instant racing claims…

As the Senate State Affairs prepares to continue its hearing this morning on SB 1011, the bill to repeal "instant racing" in Idaho, here's a fact check on some of the claims that have been made on both sides of the debate, from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi:

Idaho lawmakers say they were duped on instant horse racing 
By KIMBERLEE KRUESI, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers are considering whether to repeal instant betting machines, just two years after the lucrative terminals sailed through the Legislature with little opposition.

The push to ban instant racing has come from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and lawmakers who say they were duped into supporting cleverly disguised slot machines.

Proponents, meanwhile, say instant racing — betting on a prior horse race with no identifiable information— is vital to saving Idaho's horse racing industry. They point out that some of the money generated goes to the state, racing associations and breeders groups.

A legislative committee is expected to vote on the repeal bill Wednesday.

A key point of contention deals with testimony from 2013. Many lawmakers said they weren't given all the details, which supporters vehemently dispute. The Associated Press reviewed audio and transcripts of all the testimony given while lawmakers considered whether to allow instant racing that session. Here's some examples of what was said, and what wasn't:

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SLOT MACHINE SIMILARITIES

— What was said: Former Idaho Horse Racing Commission Director Frank Lamb explained the difference between slot machines and instant racing terminals during a hearing Feb. 28, 2013.

Slot machines determine winners by a random number generate that tends to favor the house, he said. Instant racing machines, meanwhile, are based off of pari-mutuel betting, meaning money from several gamblers gets pooled together, and the house takes the same percentage regardless of how much money goes in.

Two weeks later, a Senate panel was considering the measure after it has sailed through the House. Lamb told Senate State Affairs Committee members that "the only difference between historical horse racing and tradition pari-mutuel wagering is that the patron is betting on a previously run horse race."

— What wasn't said: There was no mention of spinning wheels, sounds and animations that mimic slot machines. Late last year, Lamb told The Associated Press: The betting machines "look like slot machines because they're supposed to look like slot machines. That's what people want. This is what we need to do to get people to play."

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GAME OF SKILL?

— What was said: During the House committee hearing, Rep. Vito Barbieri asked Lamb, "It's not just a game of chance saying I'm going to pick the favorite or somewhere in between. In other words, I'm going to have plenty of information about the horse on the screen to make this determination. Is that correct?"

"That is correct, sir," Lamb said.

— What wasn't said: An Idaho Supreme Court ruling from the 1960s states that pari-mutuel betting must include skill, judgment and an understanding of horsemanship. On an instant racing machine, bettors can look at information about the horses before placing a wager. But that requires the player to know how to click away from the home screen to find the data, and the information is available for only a short amount of time on some machines.

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PLAYING OFF-TRACK

— What was said: Rep. Christy Perry, who sponsored the 2013 legislation, told lawmakers that permitting instant racing would affect three state-recognized racetracks only.

— What wasn't said: There was no discussion about exceptions that would allow instant racing to greatly expand. Under the law racetracks can open instant racing off-site, putting it closer to cities. As of November, one of the three racetracks with instant racing had already moved their betting terminals to a bar and grill near downtown Idaho Falls.

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LEGAL OPPOSITION

— What was said: In 2013, only one person testified in opposition to ushering in instant racing in Idaho during a Senate hearing, focusing mainly on the likeness instant racing was to allowing slot machines.

— What wasn't said: Instant racing is currently legal in Arkansas, Wyoming, Oregon and Kentucky.

State supreme courts in Oregon and Wyoming outlawed instant racing in 2003. But by 2013, lawmakers had reinstated them.

The machines have also been blocked in Texas, Nebraska and Maryland. A court case challenging instant racing in Kentucky has been ongoing since 2011.

 




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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