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Eye On Boise

Instant racing initiative backers accuse tribe of breaking law, ‘thuggish and criminal behavior’

Here’s an article from the Associated Press:

By Kimberlee Kruesi

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A group seeking to legalize lucrative betting machines in Idaho on Monday accused the Coeur d'Alene Tribe of breaking state law while attempting to deter the success of their petition, adding they have alerted law enforcement officials to investigate.

According to Save Idaho Horse Racing, the tribe has offered at least two petition employees cash to stop collecting signatures for its ballot initiative to legalize the machines. They say this violates state law, which makes it a felony for a person to offer a “valuable consideration” in order to prevent circulating a petition or soliciting signatures.

The group says it has contacted the Secretary of State, Ada County Sheriff's office and Ada County Prosecutor's office and provided documents that show evidence of bribery. The sheriff's office confirmed meeting with the group and they were investigating, but declined to comment further.

"We fully expect that law enforcement will see this for what it is — criminal activity — and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law," said Bruce Newcomb, chairman of the initiative campaign and former speaker of the Idaho House. "And we call upon the Coeur d'Alene Tribe to stop this thuggish and criminal behavior."

The group provided reporters on Monday with a copy of a conversation that took place over Facebook's messaging platform. It showed on April 19 a staffer with the North Idaho Voter Project offering $1,500 to a ballot measure employee to immediately stop soliciting signatures.

The North Idaho Voter Project is a political action committee connected to the tribe.

"I can only do 1500 with a contract bro. I have it in cash on me. Under the table. Real dirty lol (sic)," the unidentified North Idaho Voter Project staffer said to the fellow unidentified signature collector.

The staffer then attached a non-compete agreement that stated signing the document required stopping any collection of voter signatures and halting any distribution of favorable information about the petition.

Officials with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe maintain they have done nothing wrong and operated within their rights.

"The document in question is a non-compete agreement provided to someone who was negotiating for a job with the North Idaho Voter Project. Such an agreement is standard in these sorts of campaign efforts," Tyrel Stevenson said, an attorney with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

The tribe is against legalizing the machines because it argues the terminals do not use pari-mutuel wagering — a betting system that pits bettors against each other and gives the house a percentage of the winnings — which is allowed under Idaho law. Critics counter that the tribe has an incentive to keep the machines out of Idaho because it currently has a monopoly on video gaming.

Stevenson called Save Idaho Horse Racing's accusations lies.

"The special interests funding this petition clearly don't have support for their effort to expand gambling in Idaho and are now looking for someone to blame. They should stop whining and accept reality: Idahoans don't support them or their cause," Stevenson said.

Save Idaho Horse Racing also said Monday they contacted a former staffer who confirmed she had been given $1,000 from the tribe to spend on gambling rather than collecting signatures. That staffer no longer works for the campaign.

Save Idaho Horse Racing previously accused the tribe of harassment and intimidation by hiring operatives to follow signature gatherers. The group estimates it has contacted the police six to 10 times in Boise and Coeur d'Alene, but so far, no charges have been filed.

The growing tension between the two groups comes just a week before the April 30 deadline, when all signature collecting must stop and the signatures are due to the state to be verified.

Save Idaho Horse Racing needs at least 6 percent of registered voter signatures in 18 or more legislative districts to qualify for the November ballot.

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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