Coeur d'Alene Tribe takes betting machine battle to court

Petition states Otter's veto invalid due to lack of completion within the required five-day time span

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BOISE - The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is asking the Idaho Supreme Court to order the state to enforce legislation banning instant horse racing terminals.

The Tribe filed the petition Wednesday, contending that Gov. Butch Otter's veto of the legislation was invalid because he didn't complete it within the required five-day time span.

Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson filed the suit on the Tribe's behalf.

"The Constitution was not created for the benefit of the governor or the Legislature, but for the people, who have a right to have duly enacted laws enforced," Ferguson said in a statement. "This basic right goes to the heart of our democracy."

According to the lawsuit, the Tribe wants the machines to be banned by July 1, which would have been the effective date if the legislation had been upheld.

Known as instant horse racing, the machines allow bettors to place wagers on prior horse races with no identifying information. Idaho lawmakers approved legalizing the machines in 2013, but passed the legislation banning them earlier this year with a supermajority approval in both chambers. Lawmakers claimed they previously had been duped into approving cleverly designed slot machines.

Once SB 1011, the legislation banning the machines, reached Otter's desk, the governor delayed releasing his decision, doing so after the five-day window had passed. Otter said he put off announcing the veto so he could talk to lawmakers over the Easter weekend.

Otter's spokesman, Jon Hanian, did not immediately respond requests for comment.

The Idaho Senate then failed to override the governor's decision on a 19-16 vote.

However, three statements entered into the Senate journal that day - submitted by Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and Secretary Jennifer Novak - stated the Senate failed to receive the governor's veto by the required deadline.

Lawmakers said the move protected Republican senators from voting against the governor, while also providing a record that the veto was never properly delivered.

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney has declined to enforce the bill despite requests from the Tribe to certify the law.

Currently, roughly 250 machines are installed in three locations across the state.

Backers of the ban - including the Coeur d'Alene Tribe - argue that the machines are essentially slot machines, which are illegal under Idaho's constitution. Horse racing officials counter that the machines are vital to sustaining their failing industry after facing years of lackluster attendance to live horse racing events.

"The record clearly shows the governor did not follow the constitutional requirements for a legal and valid veto. It's a shame the secretary of state has chosen to waste taxpayer dollars by refusing to do his job. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to pursue this matter in court," said Coeur d'Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan in a statement.

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