Say Goodbye to Historical Racing Machines

Idaho Racing Commission Director Frank Lamb announced Friday that he would leave his post a couple of months early. He had already said he would retire at the end of the legislative session. The current announcement comes two days after it was revealed he also worked as a consultant and lobbyist for a private racing operator in neighboring Wyoming.

The element at the heart of the situation is called Instant, or Historical Racing. Lottery giant GTECH and Idaho tribes with casinos stand to lose a lot of money if the betting practice, legalized in 2013 is allowed to continue. Director Lamb appeared before the Senate State Affairs Committee a week earlier to answer questions in regard to the legality of the “racing machines”.

The Idaho Racing Commission is part of the Idaho State Police.

Historical Racing is a parimutuel betting activity (parimutuel wagering is legal in the state) wherein a central server selects a horse race from the past and displays the results, along with a few seconds of the race on a small portion of a gaming machine. Aside from the small 3″ x 5″ race display screen, everything else about the device resembles a slot machine. Slot machines are illegal in the state, with the exception of tribal casinos.

Confusion exists about whether Lamb complied with the Idaho’s Ethics in Government Act that requires all officials to declare in writing any potential conflicts of interest. Lamb testified before Idaho lawmakers in support of legalizing the machines while registered as a lobbyist for Wyoming Downs – lobbying for their acceptance there.

The Wyoming horse racing industry got a big shot in the arm with Wyoming Downs opening previously shuttered tracks, and opening a network of simulcast and instant racing venues. A portion of the proceeds go into live racing purses – drawing top jockeys, trainers and horses.

The machines have also helped Idaho’s strapped racing industry. According to “Idaho Wins” a racing industry advocacy group, “In its first six months, Historical Horse Racing has increased purses, lead to improvement in facilities, and provided more than $63,000.00 in funding to Idaho’s small track fund and breeding programs, and more than $156,000.00 has gone to Idaho schools and racing commission.”

There are 200 terminals at Les Bois Park in Boise, and 10 terminals at Coeur d’ Alene Racing. During three summer months of 2014 Les Bois Park had a handle of over $15 million, nearly a third of all lottery sales in the state for the same period.

Idaho tribes have contacted the state’s governor asking for the law that allows the machines to be repealed. On January 23rd the Senate State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to introduce a bill doing just that. Another hearing is scheduled for February 9.