Republican candidates for Idaho governor are split on whether a type of gambling should be allowed to resume in the Gem State. Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist said they would re-authorize a form of horse race betting that the Legislature banned in 2015, while U.S Rep. Raul Labrador says he’s committing to maintaining the limited betting already approved by voters and nothing more.

In 2013 the Idaho Legislature approved a bill allowing the implementation of historical horse racing, also known as instant horse racing. With historical horse racing a bettor watches a video snippet of a horse race from the past, and places a bet on the outcome. The terminal that displays the historical race, often as not, is a machine that features flashing lights and casino-like sounds. Horsemen defended the machine flashiness as part of the esthetics, while opponents said the machines were little more than casino games by another name, and casino gaming is banned under the state constitution.

In 2015, the Legislature voted to repeal the historical horse racing bill they had passed just two years earlier. Gov. Butch Otter vetoed the repeal bill but he acted too late. That caused the millions of dollars in historical horseracing equipment and related investments to be mothballed and numerous employees were laid off.

Both Little and Ahlquist issued statements indicating they would have vetoed the Legislature’s Senate Bill 1011, which killed historical horse racing in 2015.

“I would have vetoed the bill on time and avoided this completely unnecessary situation,” Ahlquist said. “This industry was allowed to legally pursue historical horse racing then after millions were invested and hundreds employed, the law was changed, putting them out of business. This type of whiplash is not good for any industry nor is it fair.”

Little paints the picture that he would have resolved the hostile relationship between the horse industry and the state’s Indian tribes, who had been on a tear to repeal the 2013 law that legalized historical horse racing. The tribes have the only voter-approved casino (although we’re not allowed to call it that) gambling in the state and they considered the horse industry’s 2013 expansion to be competition.

“I would have vetoed Senate Bill 1011. However, I would have avoided a veto scenario in the first place. I would have worked with the bill’s sponsors and stakeholders to come up with a mutually agreeable solution, averting legislation like SB 1011,” Little wrote.

Labrador said he opposes the expansion of gambling in Idaho. He states, had he been in the Legislature in 2013, he probably would have opposed historical horse racing to begin with.

“Two years later in 2015, when the Idaho Legislature reversed course and voted to ban instant horse racing, I again was not deeply involved in the debate and do not believe I currently have sufficient information to tell whether I would have vetoed the legislation,” Labrador said. “However, I am deeply troubled by reports that the legislature was misled by the proponents of instant horse racing.  On the other hand, I am also troubled by reports that the horse industry was denied due process a mere two years after the state legalized a whole new industry. That is a constitutional principle that I believe we must guard jealously. “

Ahlquist and Little promised that if the issue comes up again when they’re governor, they’ll support the return of historical horseracing.

As a lifelong Idahoan, I have spent much of my life on a horse and I want to preserve that way of life for my children and grandchildren,” said Little. “As Governor, I will work with all the interested parties to find a solution that brings horseracing back to Idaho and complies with the spirit of our constitution.”

Ahlquist said, “Idaho should allow these businesses to resume operations and if necessary the courts can determine any legal concerns.”

Labrador said he wouldn’t stand in the way of the issue being considered. He noted, “As governor, if this issue comes again before the legislature I will work to ensure an open and transparent process where both sides are given sufficient opportunities to make their case for or against instant horse racing.” He left it at that.

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