BOISE – An effort to outlaw slot machine-like betting terminals being used in Post Falls and elsewhere cleared the Idaho Senate on Tuesday.
The move followed emotional debate over the future of Idaho’s horse racing industry and the honesty of the machines’ proponents.
The Senate’s 25-9 vote sends the bill, SB 1011, to the state House of Representatives; if it survives a committee hearing and a full House vote there and receives the governor’s signature, the machines would become illegal July 1.
Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, led the opposition to the bill, saying, “A repeal would discourage other businesses from investing in Idaho for fear of having the rug pulled out from under their feet. … Don’t forget the agricultural importance of the industry and the enormous negative impact that comes with the repeal.”
When other senators said the machines are clearly simulated slot machines, which the Idaho Constitution specifically bans, Nonini said, “We have to remember the courts are there to determine the constitutionality of laws that the Legislature makes. … If there’s an issue there, let the courts decide it.”
Sen. Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, said, “I don’t think there is any way you can say that they are not a simulation of a slot machine – they were intended to be that. … It’s clear that the product itself does not fit within our constitutional definition. I don’t think that is a debatable issue. I’m a trial lawyer, I often advise clients on whether to go to trial or not. … A hundred juries out of 100 would find that these machines are simulations of slot machines. They clearly are.”
The repeal bill was proposed by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which said both it and lawmakers were duped two years ago when proponents brought in legislation to legalize gambling on “historical horse racing,” promising a new type of simulcast betting on past horse races with the potential to save the state’s dwindling horse industry.
Nonini was clearly angry about the tribe’s involvement, and told the Senate the tribe also “instigated” an investigation into the legality of the machines at the Greyhound Park by the Post Falls Police; that investigation is ongoing.
Nonini, along with three other North Idaho state representatives, wrote a letter last week to the director of the Idaho Lottery questioning whether the tribe’s own gambling machines at its reservation casino are legal.
Lottery Director Jeff Anderson said in a written response Tuesday that the lottery regulates Idaho tribes’ machines, and that they’re clearly legal under both state and federal law.
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