‘Without due process,’ House votes to repeal horse racing law

Dustin Hurst Headlines

Opponents of a bill to repeal Idaho’s instant horse racing law tried nearly every maneuver allowed, but failed to stop the measure, which they saw as lacking evidence.

“Personally, I’m offended this bill has come to the floor without due process,” said Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, deep in the lengthy debate.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, would repeal a 2013-passed law allowing instant horse racing. Andrus and other proponents said the instant racing machines are too much like slot machines, which would violate Idaho’s Constitution that prohibits gambling other than the state lottery and a few other forms of wagering.

“It has a gone a direction we did not intend it to go,” Andrus told colleagues. “What we passed in the legislation is what we have today.”

The instant racing machines are supposed to display old horse races with any identifying information removed from horses and jockeys. Before wagering, bettors are supposed to have access to some allowed information, like statistics and win-loss records, to help make a decision about the bet.

The bill’s proponents say many of the machines are simply glorified slot machines with cherries, spinning numbers and other similarities.

Youngblood’s debate encapsulated the opposition’s main thrust that the Legislature is acting too hastily on the topic.

“We’re being asked to be a jury here,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. “The facts are not in yet. The jury should have all the facts; wouldn’t you agree?”

Opponents suggested lawmakers let an ongoing investigation into the legality of the instant racing machines take its course. Without the finds of that inquiry, opponents warned, the measure went too far without evidence.

“Let’s don’t kick due process over the cliff to rush to judgment,” said Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls. “This is about what’s fair and just for all. Senate Bill 1011 is not.”

During the debate, opponents repeatedly challenged the bill’s fiscal note, which suggests the measure won’t have any impact on revenue for the state or local government. Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, motioned to hold the bill due to the inaccuracy, but lost that by a wide margin.

Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, moved to send the bill to the House’s amending order for changes to the fiscal note, but House Speaker Scott Bedke ruled that out of order. Eventually, after clarifying the handling of Gestrin’s move, the House voted on the motion, but killed that, too.

Proponents won the day, saying while the Legislature may have had good intentions in 2013, the law is too permissive.

“This is an expansion of gambling in Idaho,” said House Majority Caucus Chair John Vander Woude, R-Nampa. “This is gaming. This is gambling.”

Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said she believes the machines are designed to simulate slot machines, and therefore violate the Constitution.

The debate comes just days after John Sheldon, one of the owners of an instant racing outfit in Boise, wrote an editorial in the Idaho Statesman suggesting the Senate bill would kill jobs in the state.

“It will truly be anti-business and send the wrong message to any industry needing legislative support to conduct business in Idaho,” Shelton wrote.

Following the vote, the Coeur d’Alene tribe, a proponent of the bill, cheered the repeal.

The measure now heads to Gov. Butch Otter’s desk.