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News >  Idaho

Coeur d’Alene Tribe sues over instant racing ban veto

BOISE – The Coeur d’Alene Tribe is asking the Idaho Supreme Court to declare Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of a bill banning instant racing invalid.

The lawsuit, filed directly with the Idaho Supreme Court on Wednesday, asks the justices to order Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to certify the bill into law, saying that’s what the Idaho Constitution requires.

“The powers defined by the Constitution are an essential part of the checks and balances of our democracy,” Deborah Ferguson, attorney for the tribe, wrote in legal arguments filed with the court. “The governor cannot enlarge his veto power under the Constitution.”

The instant racing repeal bill passed both houses of the Idaho Legislature this year by more than two-thirds margins. It would have repealed a law that allowed wagering on “historical” horse races, or replays of randomly selected past races. Lawmakers said they were duped when the machines were installed at three Idaho locations – including 35 at the Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls – because they looked, sounded and acted like slot machines.

Backers of the move said the so-called “instant racing” machines, which show a few seconds of the end of a horse race on a tiny screen while reels spin, lights flash and the player either wins or loses, would save Idaho’s financially troubled horse racing industry by raising money for race purses.

The bill was among the most heavily lobbied of this year’s legislative session. Otter had five days to act on it after it passed, with the deadline falling on the Saturday afternoon before Easter. Lawmakers had adjourned for the weekend on Thursday. But Otter didn’t deliver the vetoed bill back to the Senate until Monday morning. That was after the deadline, according to statements entered into the Senate journal.

The Legislature took a vote to override Otter’s veto. A majority supported the override, but not the required two-thirds.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which pushed for the bill, called on Denney to certify the law so it would take effect, but he refused.

“The integrity of the lawmaking process is at stake,” Ferguson wrote in court documents. “Neither the Legislature nor the people can force the Secretary of State to perform his duties if he refuses; only this Court can do so.”

Ferguson is the same attorney who successfully represented four lesbian couples whose lawsuit overturned Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage last year.

Denney said last month that he didn’t believe he had the authority to certify the bill as law. “I think the court is probably the appropriate place to have those questions answered,” he said.

Mark Warbis, spokesman for Otter, said Wednesday that the governor had no comment.

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