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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Instant racing machines get something of a summer reprieve…

The Idaho Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in Coeur d’Alene Tribe vs. Lawerence Denney, the instant racing lawsuit, for Aug. 11 at 10 a.m. That’s not as quickly as the tribe had requested the case be heard – it wanted the court to rule by July 1, when it contends SB 1011 takes effect, making the gambling terminals illegal in Idaho. The timing could mean the machines will continue to operate through much of the summer.

The bill passed both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly. Gov. Butch Otter issued a veto, but didn’t do so until after the five-day deadline for a veto had passed. The tribe sued Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, after it demanded he certify the bill as law to allow it to take effect, and he refused. If a bill isn’t vetoed within the time limit, the Idaho Constitution says it becomes law without the governor’s signature. Denney, in his initial response to the lawsuit, contends it’s not his job to resolve disputes between the governor and the Senate over the validity of a veto – it’s up to the Senate. He also suggested that the court would be limited by separation of powers in directing the Senate on what to do.

The Senate received the vetoed bill two days after the deadline, certified that fact officially with three letters placed in its official journal, and then took a veto override vote anyway. The override received a majority but not the two-thirds supermajority that’s required to override a governor’s veto.

Instant racing machines appeared in Idaho in the past year after lawmakers two years ago authorized wagering on “historical” horse racing, or re-broadcasts of randomly selected past races. Lawmakers were surprised when the machines showed up, however, as they resemble slot machines, with only the final few seconds of the past horse race showing in a tiny screen as reels spin, lights flash and bettors win or lose. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe proposed SB 1011, to repeal the 2013 authorization.

The tribe operates a casino on its reservation in North Idaho, but in 1998, it first identified the Greyhound Park Event Center in Post Falls, a former dog-racing track that hosts simulcast betting and is also a historic tribal gathering place, as the site where it wanted to build a casino. Because the site was outside the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, that would have required approval from the governor of Idaho for the tribe to purchase the land and place it in trust with the federal government as Indian land. Then-Gov. Phil Batt said no, saying gaming in Idaho should be limited to tribal reservations, so the tribe developed its casino in Plummer in the heart of its reservation, a far more remote location than the Greyhound Park’s freeway location not far from Spokane.

Now, the Greyhound Park is one of the sites where the slot machine-like instant racing terminals are operating. The other two are Les Bois Park, the horse racetrack just west of Boise, and the Double Down Betting Bar & Grill, an off-track betting parlor in Idaho Falls affiliated with the Sandy Downs racetrack.

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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