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Eye On Boise

Testimony: ‘Idaho was built on the backs of horses,’ ‘We have invested millions’

Debbie Amsden testifies against SB 1011, the bill to repeal “instant racing” in Idaho (Betsy Russell)
Debbie Amsden testifies against SB 1011, the bill to repeal “instant racing” in Idaho (Betsy Russell)

In more testimony this morning on SB 1011, the bill to repeal the 2013 law that authorized betting on “historical horse racing” and opened the door to “instant racing” machines in Idaho:

Debbie Amsden, executive director of the Idaho Horse Council and coordinator of the Idaho Horse Expo, said, “I’m here to plead with you to allow historic racing to continue.” She said, “I watched the governor sign the bill into law. I understand historical racing then and I understand it now. We saw pictures, we went to all the meetings. Nothing has changed, you did a great job a couple of years ago and I hope you do an even better job today. The terminals are based on live racing from the past, I understand that. … The horse industry in Idaho was gravely hindered with the economy bottomed out. It is now starting to improve. If you eliminate historical racing now, you will decimate the equine industry. … We believe live racing in Idaho will go away and simulcast will also be in jeopardy. ... Idaho was built on the backs of horses ... We are pleading with you to leave historical racing as is.”

Melissa Bernard, CEO of Intermountain Racing in Idaho Falls, which includes both Sandy Downs and the Double Down Betting Bar, said, “Some may not like the looks of our terminals and say they look like  a slot machine, but there’s no law against good marketing and packaging and offering a good player experience.”  She said, “My company followed the letter of the law and implemented a business model that’s good and sound for Idaho. … We invested millions in this business.” Bernard said, “As a business owner in Idaho I’m being bullied by special interests.”

Amber Job of Idaho Falls, manager at Double Down, said she thought Monday’s testimony from Louis Cella of Race Tech LLC and Curtis Linnell of the Thoroughred Racing Protective Bureau, who testified that his organization audited the machines in Idaho on behalf of the Idaho Racing Commission and they passed tests, established that the instant racing machines in Idaho involve pari-mutuel, or pooled betting. She said she’s here to tell her personal story. Breaking into tears, the eastern Idaho native told of health and personal challenges, alleviated once she went to work in her current job and was promoted to manager at Double Down. “I have been able to get off food stamps,” she said. Her husband was able to quit his far-off job and come home, taking a pay cut in the process. "I could not work for a better family - the passion they have for horse racing is contagious," she said. She called it "sad" that the Legislature would consider changing an existing Idaho business and employer "from legal to illegal. ... You the state Legislature are going to take that away."

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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