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Eye On Boise

Otter calls for return of instant racing terminals, with tighter regulations

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said Wednesday that he wants to see instant racing terminals return in Idaho with tighter regulations, the AP reports. "Let's start with the steps I laid out in my veto message last winter: Creation of a state gaming commission to set operating rules that are sensitive to community and industry concerns, restoration of horse racing services — including pari-mutuel terminals — but with tighter regulations on the location of the machines and operations," Otter said in a statement.

"The governor is saying this topic is not over," said his press secretary, Jon Hanian. "The debate is ongoing."

Idaho lawmakers this year repealed authorization for the slot machine-like betting machines, two years after they first authorized them in 2013. Lawmakers said they’d been duped, because the “historical horse racing” terminals they’d been promised, which showed replays of unidentified past horse races and allowed operators to place bets on them, instead featured quick betting, flashing lights, spinning reels and only a tiny screen showing the final seconds of a horse race. The Idaho Constitution bans any electronic simulation of casino gaming, including slot machines.

Otter vetoed the repeal bill, but didn’t deliver his veto back to the Senate within the constitutionally required five-day time frame. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, lead sponsor of the repeal bill, sued, and the Idaho Supreme Court ruled the veto invalid and the machines illegal. They had been operating at three locations around the state: Les Bois Park near Boise; the Double Down Betting Bar & Grill in Idaho Falls; and the Greyhound Park Event Center in Post Falls. The tribe operates its own video gambling machines at its reservation casino, under a negotiated compact with the state and a voter-approved initiative.

The AP reports that Hanian said Otter’s not explicitly calling for a return of the instant racing machines, which Idaho's horse racing industry promoted as a way to boost live horse racing in the state, and will have more to say on the topic in his State of the State message to lawmakers in January. You can read a full report here from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, and read Otter's full statement here

In his statement, Otter writes, “This story isn’t about me. It’s about the devastating impact of that unfortunate decision, and all that led up to it, on the lives of thousands of Idaho families.  Horse trainers, jockeys, hay farmers, stable hands, restaurant operators, veterinarians, hotel/motel owners, horse breeders and trailer manufacturers are among the multitude of folks threatened by this reversal. Simply stated, Idahoans involved with the horse industry have been treated unfairly.  I’m not willing to let something so integral to our culture simply disappear.  I’m not willing to turn my back on an industry with businesses, ranches and farms – and most importantly people – contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to our communities and economy. It’s time to work collaboratively and constructively to preserve Idaho’s horse racing industry.  There are some tough decisions to be made and some hard work to do, but I’m ready to work with legislators and the industry to craft new laws in the next session of the Legislature.”

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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