BOISE – Idaho lawmakers expressed deep concern Thursday about “instant racing” betting machines that have been installed in Post Falls, Idaho Falls and the Boise area.
The machines, which resemble slot machines, were made possible by legislation passed two years ago authorizing betting on “historical” horse races.
“This committee was flatly deceived on historical horse racing,” Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said in Thursday’s House State Affairs Committee meeting. “And what we voted for is not what we got.”
Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, said, “I was really suspicious about this bill in 2013 … and my suspicions were proven to be true.”
The committee was considering a requirement that prospective new licensees for the machines must have had simulcasting licenses for a year. The three places that already have the machines hold the only three existing simulcasting licenses, which allow betting on broadcasts of live races that are happening elsewhere. That requirement was proposed by the Idaho Racing Commission.
“I think the commission realized that the Legislature was concerned about the proliferation of these things,” state Racing Commission Executive Director Frank Lamb said. “That’s what this rule’s about, to give them the authority to say ‘no, you haven’t been simulcasting,’ ” to new applicants, he said. “They could go further than that, but this is a start.”
Some committee members, including Luker, backed the rule as a first step toward reining in the machines, but Bill Roden, lobbyist for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, urged rejection of the rule, saying approving it would endorse the existing scheme. Roden suggested that instead, the Legislature step back, repeal the 2013 law and start over.
The panel decided to delay its vote on the rule for a week and get more information, including results of an investigation that’s been launched by the Post Falls Police Department into whether the machines at the Greyhound Park Event Center are illegal slot machines.
Rep. Gayle Batt, R-Wilder, read from the Idaho Constitution, which bans forms of gambling that imitate or simulate any form of casino gambling, including slot machines.
“They do pretty much look like slot machines,” she said. “They have spinning wheels and lights that are flashing. Is that not an electromechanical simulation of a slot machine?”
Lamb said that’s not something the state racing commission has looked into.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said when the idea for betting on “historical racing” was presented to lawmakers two years ago, they were told bettors would see odds and select horses, making it a game of skill. But the machines appear to just display spinning reels and either pay out or not, he said.
“I’ve seen nowhere for that ability for a player to assess by skill who’s going to win a particular race,” Barbieri said.
Barbieri said he supports “historical racing” – betting on replays of past horse races – and the funds it raises for Idaho’s horse industry, but is concerned the way the law has been implemented violates the ban on slot machines.
“If we’re going to allow gambling, let’s change the constitution,” Barbieri said, adding that while he’d be “OK with that,” it would be difficult.
A Senate committee is scheduled to consider the same rule this morning, along with a proposal to repeal the 2013 law.
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