Credit the Coeur d’Alene Tribe with cleverness.
It took me a while to realize exactly what the tribe was up to with its Senate Bill 1011, but now I know. The tribe argues that the Legislature should pass its bill to repeal historical horse racing. Historical horse racing is a type of gambling where, sitting at a terminal, a player can bet on a horse race that occurred sometime in the past. The player doesn’t know when or where the race took place, but using information generally found for live races, he places a bet on the outcome of the race.
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The tribe, which operates its own casinos with slot machines, contends that the historical horse race terminals violate the Idaho Constitution’s ban on casino gambling. But the tribe isn’t valiantly fighting to protect the state constitution. The tribe wants to kill off its competition. The tribe wants its monopoly.
But that’s not all. Senate Bill 1011 would deprive historical horse racing operators—located solely in Post Falls, Boise and Idaho Falls—of their right to due process. As one legislator told me, the tribe “wants us to be judge, jury and executioner.”
It is true that there is some debate on whether the historical horse racing terminals violate the Idaho Constitution. But the Legislature is the wrong place to hold such a debate; that is, unless you want to deny the purveyors of the technology of due process, and that’s what the tribe is doing.
A cornerstone of our society, a bedrock of our federal Constitution, is the right to due process. Twice our United States Constitution says that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” It is the only commandment of government that occurs in two places—the Fifth Amendment and the 14th Amendment.
Senate Bill 1011 proposes to take away liberty, to most certainly take away property. Everyone is entitled to due process, no matter how much we may support or oppose a particular behavior, action or activity. Even if you oppose gambling, you have to concede that the people whose livelihoods are dependent on historical horse racing still deserve due process under our system of government.
If Senate Bill 1011 fails, the question of the legality of historical horse racing would be decided in a court of law, in front of an impartial tribunal. That tribunal would consider the evidence. And who knows, the court may rule against the use of these terminals. But then again, the court may support it. But both sides would be allowed to present their evidence, and defend their positions. The most important thing is that the people whose property and jobs are on the line would have had their day in court.
On Wednesday and Thursday, members of the House State Affairs Committee were told that hundreds of jobs would be lost and millions of dollars in investment in historical horse racing laid to waste under Senate Bill 1011. That’s something that should cause lawmakers to hit the pause button.
Passage of the tribe’s legislation won’t strengthen the U.S. Constitution; it will take a torch to it by denying all those affected the right of due process, which is precisely what the Coeur d’Alene Tribe is after.