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Tuesday, February 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Denney refuses to certify instant-racing repeal law, sets up court fight

UPDATED: Mon., May 4, 2015

BOISE - Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney says he won’t comply with a legal demand letter from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe asking him to certify SB 1011, the instant racing repeal bill, as law – setting up a court battle.

“I don’t think personally that we have any authority to do that,” Denney told The Spokesman-Review on Monday.

Denney said he’s “sure” there will be a court case over the matter, which involves questions about whether Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of the measure was invalid, because he didn’t return the vetoed bill to the Idaho Senate within the five-day time limit set by the Idaho Constitution, instead waiting seven days.

Lawmakers this year passed the bill to repeal a 2013 law that authorized wagering on “historical” horse races, or races that had been run in the past. Saying they were surprised by the slot machine-like “instant racing” machines that were installed in three locations in Idaho this year as a result – including the Greyhound Park Event Center in Post Falls – they overwhelmingly passed the repeal bill.

Gov. Butch Otter vetoed the bill on April 3, but kept his veto secret for three days, not delivering the vetoed bill to the Senate until the following Monday, April 6. The deadline for doing so was April 4. The Senate then took a vote on overriding the veto; while the move drew a majority, it didn’t get the two-thirds supermajority required for a veto override. At the same time, the Senate placed into the record three letters certifying that it didn’t receive the vetoed bill by the required deadline.

Late last week, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which had proposed the bill, delivered a legal demand letter to Denney asking him to certify SB 1011 as law because the veto was invalid.

Helo Hancock, legislative liaison for the tribe, said, “It’s disappointing to hear that that’s Secretary Denney’s position, with such a clear mandate under the Constitution and the code. It’s frustrating to see him step back and try to take a back seat to this issue, when he clearly has the responsibility to certify this as law.”

Hancock said, “We are in consultation with our legal counsel and will be exploring our legal options, and I can tell you this: There will be a challenge to this veto.”

Denney said, “The Constitution is silent on the duties and the code says it has to be authenticated by the governor, which certainly it was not.”

“I think my job is more ministerial, and so I don’t think I need to get in the middle of that court case,” Denney said. But asked about how the Secretary of State commonly is named as the defendant in lawsuits against the state, Denney, who took office in January, said, “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

He said his chosen course of action – not taking any action, and seeing what happens – came after consultation with the Idaho Attorney General’s office. “They thought that this was the best course,” Denney said. “Really, there are questions, I think, that need to be asked, and questions that I don’t have the forum to ask. So I think the court is probably the appropriate place to have those questions answered.”

Asked about “instant racing,”Denney said, “Y’know, I’ve never been a fan of gambling, but I don’t know that it’s really a lot different than what the tribes are doing on their reservations.”

Hancock said tribal gaming is considerably different. “The reasons for allowing tribes to have gaming were to overcome historical socio-economic issues, abject poverty, extremely high levels of unemployment, and it came through originally a federal law, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” he said.

Idaho tribes also sponsored a ballot initiative before they signed gaming compacts with the state. “We showed people our machine and we traveled around the state and we were open and we were honest about why we wanted them and why we needed them and what they were,” Hancock said. “And people knew very well what they were approving. There were years of public debate about it, and finally approval in a public vote. None of that happened with instant racing.”

Four years before the 2002 ballot measure, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe proposed a tribal casino at the Greyhound Park, which would have required them to purchase the property and place it in trust as Indian land. That required the governor’s approval, and then-Gov. Phil Batt, said no, saying tribal gaming should stay on the reservation. The tribe then focused instead on its reservation casino in Worley, which now includes a major resort hotel and golf course.

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