After passing the Senate earlier by more than a 2/3 majority, the Idaho House sent SB 1011 to the Governor’s desk with a veto-proof majority of 49-21 to reverse a 2013 law that allowed historic racing machines at Idaho race tracks and simulcast facilities. The bill was proposed by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
Historic racing (sometimes known as “instant racing”) machines, can look and outwardly act very similar to a slot machine. Slots have been illegal in Idaho since the 1950’s. The machines in question allow players to bet on replays of horse races or dog races that have already been run. Betting is through a pari mutuel pool against other bettors on the same race. Players can let the machine choose the winners rather than handicapping a race themselves.
The Coeur d’Alene and other Idaho tribes are allowed to offer bingo games that appear to be slot machines and the Idaho Lottery offers “video pull tab” machines that can also resemble slots. Racing machine advocates unsuccessfully tried to hammer those points in their arguments.
Idaho lawmakers, sometimes tearfully, complain that they were decieved when they first authorized the use of the machines. Not all historic racing machines look like a slot machine. The “new generation” machines at use until the bill likely becomes law on July 1, offer a small window showing the results of the race, while the main display area displays symbols like those seen on video slots.
Post Falls, Idaho police detectives were investigating the legality of the horse-racing machines used at Greyhound Park in that town. Some legislators and observers wanted to see the results of the investigation and see the process proceed through the court system if necessary before seeing the law repealed.
Chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Chief James Allan, was pleased with the outcome Thursday saying, “We commend the Legislature for having the courage to take up this important and contentious issue. We know this was difficult for some with so much riding on the outcome and we appreciate that they took the time to thoroughly examine the matter and separate facts from emotion.”
Les Bois Park in Boise has said that the track will likely close without the additional revenue from the racing machines. Les Bois is the only commercial racing facility in the state. Treasure Valley Racing president called it “a very disappointing day for Idaho,” and urged the Governor to veto the bill.
Many observers have thought the end was in sight for the machines after the abrupt resignation of Idaho State Racing Commission Executive Director Frank Lamb on January 30th. It was revealed that Lamb had pushed for the law allowing the machines while he was still a paid lobbyist for a company that operates the machines in neighboring Wyoming.