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Eye On Boise

‘Instant racing’ ballot measure pushed, but AG says it may be unconstitutional; link to my full story

This March 5, 2015 file photo, shows video gaming terminals at Les Bois Park in Garden City, Idaho. (AP / Otto Kitsinger)
This March 5, 2015 file photo, shows video gaming terminals at Les Bois Park in Garden City, Idaho. (AP / Otto Kitsinger)

A proposed ballot initiative to legalize “historical horse racing” – slot machine-like betting terminals at which players bet on randomly selected past horse races – has been submitted to the state, but the Idaho Attorney General’s office has issued an opinion that raises serious questions about whether the measure is constitutional.

“The status of historical horse racing as legally permissible pari-mutuel betting under Article III, Sec. 20 (of the Idaho Constitution) is uncertain and likely to draw a legal challenge,” the Attorney General’s certificate of review says.

Such reviews are advisory for those proposing initiatives; they can go forward even if the Attorney General says their proposal is unconstitutional, but they risk having it overturned in court. Sponsors would need to gather more than 56,000 signatures, from all over the state, by April 30 to make the November 2018 general election ballot; you can read my full story here at

Idaho lawmakers first authorized betting on “historical horse racing” terminals in 2013, after being shown machines that looked kind of like microwave ovens, described as a new form of betting on broadcasts of races, with the races involved being randomly generated past races rather than races happening now. They were shocked a year later when the machines that showed up featured spinning reels, cherries and bars, flashing lights and instant wins, with just a tiny screen depicting the final seconds of a horse race.

In 2015, the Legislature repealed its authorization for the machines. Gov. Butch Otter belatedly attempted to veto the bill, but the Idaho Supreme Court ruled he’d missed the deadline.

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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