Otter vetoes historic horse racing repeal

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COEUR d'ALENE - Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a bill on Friday that would have repealed legislation authorizing the use of video historic horse racing machines.

Otter waited to announce the veto until the Legislature reconvened on Monday following a break for Easter weekend.

The Senate attempted to override the veto, but that failed on a 19-16 vote. Two-thirds of the legislators in both chambers of the Legislature would have to agree to overturn the veto.

"I was happy to see that vote," said Doug Okuniewicz, manager of the Greyhound Park and Event Center. "People are starting to come around to our way of thinking."

Okuniewicz said the vote was still sinking in, and he needed to take some time to process what the governor's veto will mean for the Greyhound Park.

"There are still a lot of questions we have," he said. "There was an awful lot in the governor's letter."

In a transmittal letter to the president of the Senate, Otter wrote that he supported the historic racing legislation in 2013 as a way to help the ailing horse racing industry, but didn't expect video horse racing to replace live horse racing.

"It is my firm intention to limit and restrict this type of gambling in Idaho," Otter wrote, adding he would like to see the Legislature restrict video horse racing to existing race tracks and create a Gaming Commission to oversee all gaming in Idaho.

"I do not believe it is too late to fulfill the promise of 2013 and refocus our attention on limiting and more effectively regulating rather than eliminating historic racing," Otter wrote. "In my view a precious part of Idaho's western culture is at stake."

Otter also included a letter that was sent to Idaho's Racing Commission on Friday asking it to impose a moratorium on licensing any new historic racing until a new Gaming Commission and operating rules can be established.

"And in an effort to establish definitively what so far has been the subject of opinion and speculation, I would ask the Legislature to join with me in appointing a special outside investigator as soon as possible to assess the legality of machines used at every facility that now conducts historical racing," Otter wrote, adding he also supports a "more comprehensive and holistic review of the laws and policies governing all gaming in Idaho."

The veto drew a strong response from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, which worked for the entire session to repeal historic racing in Idaho.

"Idahoans asked our governor to defend the Idaho Constitution by repealing instant racing, and sadly the governor made a clear choice to look the other way," said Chairman Chief Allan of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. "He turned his back on the Legislature and Idahoans in order to protect his friends and financiers."

The Tribe points out that during the last election cycle, Otter received a total of $56,000 in campaign donations from the horse racing supporters.

The Tribe also has donated roughly $20,000 to Otter's campaign since 2000, according to a Spokesman Review article.

"The governor has chosen to allow his buddies to continue their illegal instant racing casinos around the state while ignoring the Idaho Constitution, which he has vowed time and time again to vigorously defend and uphold," said Allan. "To say we're incredibly disappointed doesn't even begin to describe it."

The governor's actions hint at a clear double-standard, according to a statement released by the Tribe.

"In May of 2014, Gov. Otter filed a lawsuit against the Coeur d'Alene Tribe accusing the Tribe of violating the Idaho Constitution and its gaming compact with the state by offering poker," the statement said. "The case is still pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Interestingly now, even after an overwhelming majority of lawmakers voted to repeal instant racing because of its constitutionality, Gov. Otter seems fine turning a blind eye to Idaho's constitution because it benefits his close friends."

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