BOISE – Idaho lawmakers shot down a plan for a new state Gaming Commission on Thursday, and instead advanced to the full House a proposal to ban “instant racing” – the slot machinelike gambling terminals that have popped up at three locations around the state, including the Greyhound Park in Post Falls.
The Legislature in 2013 authorized betting on “historical horse racing,” which was described as a way of taking bets on broadcasts of past horse races. But lawmakers said they never envisioned the slot machinelike “instant racing” terminals that tracks installed this year.
Just two lawmakers – Reps. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton – opposed letting the full House vote on the repeal bill; it cleared the House State Affairs Committee on a 15-2 vote.
“The conclusion that these instant racing machines are slot machines is still supposition,” Barbieri said. “There is no facts yet. The (Post Falls) police department is doing an investigation.”
He called the repeal bill – which was proposed by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe – “a knee jerk, a reactionary, to a complaint that was brought by a competitor.”
Doug Okunewicz, general manager for Coeur d’Alene Racing, which operates the Greyhound Park Event Center, said the 35 gaming machines at the center are just like the machines at tribal reservation casinos.
“The two games are almost exactly the same,” he told the committee. “They function almost identically. And yet we have tribal representatives saying that the one is a representation of casino gambling and the other is not. Well, that’s just silly.”
The tribes’ gaming machines were authorized through a 2002 voter initiative and then formalized through negotiated compacts, with oversight from the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Idaho Lottery Commission; their legality has been upheld by both state and federal courts. Under federal law, tribes can offer any form of gaming on their reservations that states authorize elsewhere; the opening for tribal gaming in Idaho came when Idaho authorized a state lottery.
Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, was lead sponsor of the “historical horse racing” bill two years ago and the sponsor of the unsuccessful state gaming commission bill on Thursday.
“It has been determined in the state that Indian gaming is constitutional, and you know what, you’ve got to quit going there. It is, and the public likes it. And the public also likes pari-mutuel gaming,” she told the House committee. “And the public also likes having the lottery in Idaho.”
The only testimony in favor of the gaming commission bill came from the three companies now operating instant racing machines, including Les Bois Park in Boise and the Double Down Betting Bar in Idaho Falls, which is affiliated with the Sandy Downs racetrack.
“I hope this committee can take a step back, avoid making a hasty repeal decision, and instead form a commission to regulate and maintain gaming within our borders,” said John Sheldon, president of Treasure Valley Racing, which operates Les Bois.
Opponents of the commission bill included the vendor for the state lottery, whose attorney and lobbyist pointed to numerous problems in the measure; and Bill Roden, lobbyist for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, who called it “an attempt to divert attention” from the repeal bill.
The repeal bill earlier passed the Senate, 25-9. If it passes the House and receives the governor’s signature, instant racing would become illegal in Idaho on July 1.
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