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News >  Idaho

Idaho Supreme Court weighs veto of instant racing bill

BOISE – Idaho Supreme Court justices appeared unconvinced Tuesday by arguments that they should stay out of a dispute over a botched veto of a gambling bill.

At issue is Gov. Butch Otter’s attempt to veto legislation that had overwhelmingly passed the Idaho House and Senate, aimed at repealing the Legislature’s 2013 authorization for slot machine-like “instant racing” machines. Otter delivered the vetoed bill back to the Senate in April two days after the five-day deadline set by the Idaho Constitution. The Senate officially acknowledged the veto was too late, but then conducted an unsuccessful vote to override the veto.

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane argued the override vote showed the Senate accepted the veto as valid, so the court should respect that.

But if Otter missed the deadline, the bill became law without his signature, argued Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the Senate can’t reconsider or override something that’s already law, nor can the governor veto it.

“If the Senate can simply vote and treat a late return as if it were timely, the five-day constitutional limit would have no meaning – it would be a loose guideline for the Legislature to work around,” Ferguson told the court. “The repercussions of not requiring the Senate to follow the Constitution in this critical arena of law would be a dangerous precedent.”

Former Idaho Attorney General David Leroy, representing Coeur d’Alene Racing, operators of the Greyhound Park Event Center in Post Falls, told the court he doesn’t believe the Coeur d’Alene Tribe has standing to bring the case.

The tribe, which operates its own gambling casino on its reservation in Plummer and which was turned down by the state in 1998 in its bid to open one at the Greyhound Park – where 35 of the new instant racing machines now are running – disagreed. Ferguson contended the expansion of gambling machines beyond tribal reservations directly undercuts the main funding source for tribal government functions, from schools to courts and law enforcement.

“They had the particularized interest in gaming in Idaho,” Ferguson told the court. “There’s a direct connection between this attempted veto and the harm to the tribe.”

Idaho’s anti-gambling laws are strict; they forbid most forms of gambling other than a state lottery, tribal gaming on Indian reservations, and pari-mutuel, or pooled, betting on horse races. Coeur d’Alene Racing and other horse racing operators in Idaho contend their machines are just a new form of pari-mutuel betting. In a separate dispute with the state, the tribe recently lost an appeal over its addition of a poker room at its Worley casino; federal courts ruled that poker is strictly illegal in Idaho, for anyone.

The justices will issue their written decision in the coming weeks.

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