When Miss Lori and I learned back in February about a ballot initiative committed to reviving Idaho’s horse racing industry, we jumped at the chance to sign the petition. Truth be told, we were the first two people to ink our names on the petition to Save Idaho Horse Racing.
Now, voters can and should vote “Yes” on Proposition 1 and help revive an industry that embodies our Idaho values of hard work and fairness, entrepreneurialism, and our commitment to our children.
Proposition 1 has one goal in mind: rejuvenating a live horse racing industry that just a few years ago employed hundreds in cities and rural communities throughout Idaho and injected tens of millions of dollars annually into our economy.
But in recent years, live horse racing here in Idaho has struggled and diminished. Les Bois Park shut down in 2015, months after lawmakers repealed the use of Historic Horse Racing (HHR) terminals. Live racing at smaller, rural tracks has diminished, forcing Idaho breeders and trainers to take their skills, talents and families to other states.
It’s been painful to see such an iconic and bedrock industry fall into decline. Fewer race days and vacant tracks are bad for all of us, not just those who run horses. Generations of Idahoans have a direct connection to the horse industry, whether it’s moving cattle, riding trails or competing in rodeo. Indeed, Idaho is a horse state, with over 220,000 horses and more than 4 million acres devoted to the use and care of horses. A healthy environment for breeding, training and running race horses elevates the overall quality and economic vibrancy of our horse community.
Proposition 1 will help live racing through the restricted and limited operation of HHR. The ballot language provides clear sideboards: HHR would only be allowed at racetracks that offer at least eight live race days per year or at a single approved simulcast facility in Post Falls. Revenue generated from HHR would also provide millions over the years for public schools. And the Prop 1 sponsors, who are committed above all else to strengthening the horse and racing community, announced that they will give all profits from the state’s largest racetrack to a foundation that will support scholarships, youth programs and rural health care.
The Idaho Statesman’s recent editorial noted that Prop 1 is “complex and confusing,” offering uncertain impacts. I couldn’t disagree more. We saw the exact impacts of such a law after I signed a bill in 2013 authorizing HHR. The sky didn’t fall, there was no vast expansion of gaming. Rather, as was expected, Les Bois Park was operating, the industry was making a huge comeback, and jobs and economic activity were returning to communities across Idaho.
Idahoans should also know about the astounding hypocrisy of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Political Action Committee opposing Prop 1. It is funded almost entirely by their tribal casino. They are pouring millions of dollars into a negative effort to undermine a revival of horse racing and trying to scare Idahoans about gaming. Spending tribal casino dollars telling Idahoans that pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing will harm Idaho is wrong. Don’t believe these lies.
I’m of the firm belief that government shouldn’t tell people how they should or should not spend their money. Article 3, section 20 of the Idaho Constitution clearly outlines that you and I can choose to play the lottery, bingo, raffle or bet on a pari-mutuel horse race. Proposition 1 asks voters to reauthorize a limited, accountable and transparent form of gaming to sustain live racing without government interference.
You can count on Miss Lori and me to vote “Yes” for Proposition 1. I hope you’ll join us in voting to save Idaho horse racing on Nov. 6.
C.L. “Butch” Otter is the governor of Idaho.
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