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News >  Idaho

Otter’s veto of ‘instant racing’ machine ban was illegal, senators say

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has vetoed legislation to outlaw “instant racing” gambling machines in Idaho, but senators, while failing to override the veto, noted pointedly Monday that it likely was illegal.

The reason: Otter had five days to veto the bill and return it to the Senate. He vetoed it on Friday afternoon; the deadline was Saturday at 4:54 p.m. But he kept the news of his decision secret until Monday and didn’t return the vetoed bill to the Senate until Monday morning.

Both the Idaho Constitution and state law say “it has to be returned to the Senate within five days,” Senate Minority Caucus Chair Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, an attorney, said Monday. “Five days was Saturday. It was returned today. It’s law.”

Senate GOP leaders said the Senate wanted to have a veto override vote anyway, after formally putting its legal concerns on the record – with three letters officially read into the record, one each from Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and Secretary Jennifer Novak, all noting the time the bill was returned to the Senate.

“The Senate just felt like it wanted to speak to the merits of the override,” said Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, also an attorney. “We’ll let our friends in black robes and courthouses sort through” the legal questions about the veto.

The bill, to repeal a 2013 law that authorized wagering on “historical horse racing,” or rebroadcasts of past races, led to installation of slot machine-like “instant racing” machines at three locations, including the Greyhound Park Event Center in Post Falls. Lawmakers who said they were duped two years ago voted overwhelmingly to repeal the 2013 law.

But Otter vetoed the repeal, writing in his veto message, “In my view, a precious part of Idaho’s western culture is at stake.” Operators of the machines said without the financial boost they provide, Idaho’s horse racing industry will go bust.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe proposed SB 1011, the repeal bill. The tribe said the racing industry didn’t jump through the hoops that Idaho Indian tribes did to authorize their reservation casinos, including a statewide ballot measure, a gaming compact negotiated with the state and multiple court cases.

Since 2000, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe has donated $22,000 to Otter’s campaigns. But the principals behind the instant racing operations have donated $92,200 – more than four times as much.

Here’s how that breaks down: Winning for Idaho, the political arm of Coeur d’Alene Racing in Post Falls, donated $20,000 to Otter’s campaigns. The principals in Treasure Valley Racing, current operator of Les Bois Park near Boise, gave $72,200 to Otter’s campaigns in the same time period.

That includes $26,000 from Harry Bettis; $23,500 from Larry Williams; $13,000 from Linda Yanke; $6,000 from Robert Rebholtz Jr.; $2,450 from Jim Grigsby; and $1,250 from John Sheldon, according to campaign finance disclosures filed with the secretary of state’s office.

Otter wrote in his veto message that he wanted a moratorium on adding any new instant racing machines in Idaho, and reconsideration of the approval for the machines at the Double Down Betting Bar & Grill in Idaho Falls, an off-track location, because he said the machines should be only at racetracks.

In the Senate’s override vote, a 19-16 majority favored overriding Otter’s veto, but didn’t hit the required two-thirds supermajority. In its original vote on the bill, the Senate approved it 25-9. A two-thirds vote in the 35-member Senate requires 24 votes.

Hill, who was the bill’s Senate sponsor and supported overriding the veto, said, “It’s a big step to override a veto, particularly by a governor of your own party.”

Seven senators changed their votes from yes to no, including Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene. No one changed from no to yes. One senator who missed the earlier vote voted yes.

Stennett, D-Ketchum, said her caucus questioned “what we thought was not a lawful process.” She said the veto could well be challenged in court.

The bill would have outlawed instant racing machines as of July 1. For now, they remain legal; it’s unclear how long a court challenge would take.

Helo Hancock, legislative liaison for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said, “We’ll be certainly discussing our options in the short term.”

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