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Eye On Boise

Testimony: ‘Horses are as much Idaho as potatoes’

Among those testifying so far this morning on SB 1011, to repeal “instant racing” in Idaho:

Taunja Elison, a horse owner/trainer and the current president of the Idaho Thoroughbred Association, said, “Technology has changed everything that we do today, and that’s no different with racing.” She talked of the “passion” of people involved with horse racing at Les Bois Park. “If we do not keep up with the technological changes made to other racing ventures, we will once again lose some of our agricultural businesses and be in the same position we were in in the 1980s,” when she said Idaho teacher salaries were near-last in the nation, eclipsed only by Mississippi. Elison said Monday's testimony established that the instant racing machines are pari-mutuel, like betting on horse racing in Idaho. “I wholeheartedly believe that historical racing is a win-win bet for Idaho, Idaho schools and Idaho racing,” she said.

Ed McNelis, a past president of the Idaho Horse Council and a banker with a degree in economics, also spoke against the bill. “I have probably bought more 4H steers, lambs and hogs than anyone in this room,” he said. “My code has been if it doesn’t help youth, I’m not involved.” He talked of Idaho’s equine industry, saying, “We have the largest per capita horses to people of anywhere else in the world. Horses are as much Idaho as potatoes.” McNelis said, “The small tracks and youths receive monies from historic racing. … We are recognized as a regional leader. We can become the Kentucky of the Northwest, that will be a great accomplishment. All of this will be lost if we crush racing and the equine industry. … We have a chance to keep and build this industry in our state.”

Mark Brown of American Falls, an owner, breeder and trainer of American quarterhorses, thanked lawmakers for authorizing betting on “historical horse racing,” also known as “instant racing,” two years ago. “This could probably be the greatest impact you guys could have to our economy for five years from now,” he said. “We’re already seeing the benefit to our economy. ... We’ve expanded our breeding, we’re investing in higher quality mares, we’re keeping more mares. … I’ve had to buy more oats and more equipment. … It’s a family business.” He added, “There’s other horsemen that have invested a lot of money to come to Idaho and run. … The impact that we’ve seen in that is really big.” Brown said when he first saw the instant racing machines, he thought they looked like slot machines, but he asked an attendant at Les Bois Park how he could get to the horse racing information in the machine, and was able to do that.

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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