By BRIAN WALKER
And down the stretch they come, galloping toward a possible photo finish in November on the proposal to legalize video terminals for betting on historical horse racing.
A new participant in the race, a statewide coalition called Idaho United Against Prop 1, launched its grassroots campaign on Wednesday.
Steve Griffitts, Hayden mayor and a member of the coalition, said Proposition 1 is a thinly disguised effort to put slot machines in race track facilities.
"That's all this is," said the longtime director of the region’s economic development agency, Jobs Plus. "A slot machine expansion has nothing to do with horse racing. We don't want slot machines at every corner."
The initiative to reinstate gambling terminals will be on Idaho's general election ballot Nov. 6. The machines were legalized by the Legislature in 2013 but were repealed in 2015.
Supporters of the "Save Idaho Horse Racing" campaign say the income from the machines is needed for live horse racing to exist in Idaho.
Gov. Butch Otter, who tried but failed to veto the 2015 repeal, has said horse racing is a big business that's critical to the state.
However, state legislators found the terminals similar to slot machines, which are banned in Idaho outside Indian reservations. The Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls does not have live horse racing, but would qualify for historical racing slot machines as a legal simulcast facility.
"Proposition 1 is about slot machines, not horses, and any attempt by proponents to suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best," said Ken Andrus, a former legislator and chairman of the opposition campaign. "We need to protect our communities."
The coalition also includes North Idahoans Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d'Alene; Chris Fillios, Kootenai County commissioner; Ernie Stensgar, Coeur d'Alene Tribe chairman; Barry McHugh, Kootenai County prosecutor; Rick Rasmussen, Northwest Specialty Hospital CEO; Ron Nilson, owner of Ground Force Manufacturing; Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d'Alene; and Amy Evans and Dan Gookin, Coeur d'Alene City Council members.
"The way (the horse racing initiative) worked before was there was a bait-and-switch approach to telling people what it was," Nilson said. "It was promoted as horse racing, but it turned out to be about slot machines. When the foundation of the presentation is deception, it's wrong. Now the deception is starting again. They're not doing this to make Idaho a better place. They're trying to make money."
On the other side of the track, the "Save Idaho Horse Racing" website lists supporters including Otter; Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene; Russ Fulcher, former state senator and now congressional candidate; Idaho Freedom Foundation; horse groups; and Jack Buell, Benewah County commissioner.
Prop 1 supporters say the measure would create jobs and inject money into the economy.
Bruce Newcomb, former Idaho House speaker and chairman of Save Idaho Horse Racing, said the initiative making it to the ballot confirms that Idahoans have special feelings for horse racing and the benefits it brings to Idaho.
"There is much work yet to be done," he said. "But this is truly exciting for horse racing fans as well as the jockeys, trainers and many others who may once again have the opportunity to come back and work in a thriving and vibrant Idaho horse racing industry."
However, opponents counter that it's not the type of economic development that's desired.
Foes believe Idaho should continue down the path to create high-paying jobs that colleges and universities have been partnering with business on such as computer science, software technicians and other trades.
"That is how we want to build our island," Griffitts said.
An Idaho United Against Prop 1 press release states:
"Prop 1 is about gambling machines. Despite what backers of the proposition want you to believe, under Idaho law, horse racing is already legal in Idaho."
Prop 1 was the first citizen initiative to qualify for the ballot since lawmakers added more requirements to the process in 2013.
Another measure in November, Proposition 2, would expand Medicaid eligibility in Idaho.
Statewide proposals that were circulated but did not quality for the ballot included establishing a medical marijuana program and prohibiting abortion and making it first-degree murder.