OPINION: Ditch horse racing proposition at the polls

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Everyone seems to have picked a side regarding Proposition 1.

There are crowds of public officials, well-known folks and various organizations on both sides of this thing.

In case you don’t follow statewide initiatives all that closely, Prop 1 basically will be asking voters to approve what are called Historical Horse Racing machines at any Idaho location that stages a few days of live racing — or has an approved simulcast facility.

It’s worth remembering that last bit because the initiative could change the game at Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls, which is an authorized simulcast site.

What’s slightly bizarre about this ballot item is that Lawrence Wasden, the state attorney general, already has issued a written opinion on the issue.

Wasden wrote that he believed the HHR machines would not meet the legal threshold of “pari-mutuel” wagering.

Thus, they would be illegal.

If the initiative passes, there will be an immediate lawsuit filed by its opponents — notably the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and other Native American gaming interests across the state.

It’s pretty obvious that the tribes enjoy having their casino monopoly in Idaho, and they’ll put up a fierce legal fight to see if Wasden’s opinion can be turned into a court mandate.

AS IT happens, I know a little bit about gambling.

In fact, I did it professionally for a couple of years — so none of the issues here are outside my general base of knowledge.

My thought on Prop 1 …

Either the initiative will be defeated, or Wasden’s original points will be proved correct and the HHR machines won’t constitute true pari-mutuel wagering.

I’ve been surprised before, but honestly, I’ll be shocked if these machines ever remain in their intended destinations — the main one being Les Bois Park outside Boise, where Treasure Valley Racing has been bankrolling the entire effort.

Opponents of Prop 1 have suggested that the HHR terminals are nothing more than slot machines, and I agree.

Quick lesson here: Pari-mutuel wagering requires that players are betting against each other, not against “the house.”

At an actual horse track, this sort of wager is possible because everyone is putting money on the same race.

Once the results are in, the track takes a certain percentage of the pool (total amount of money bet on that single race) and then divides the rest among people with winning tickets.

PERHAPS it’s possible to pull off a pari-mutuel system with dozens or hundreds of individual terminals, but I don’t see how.

The attorney general’s opinion was based on that same premise.

Yes, there’s a company in the business of manufacturing gaming devices, and it claims these slot-type machines can be adapted to a pari-mutuel operation.

But these are folks with a dog in this fight. They want their machines installed, then checks cashed — and who cares if there’s a court squabble afterward?

In other words, I’m just ignoring anything they say.

Remember that the Legislature approved what was advertised as Historical Horse Racing in 2013, then repealed the same law two years later when it became obvious that the machines involved in a demonstration were not what wound up being used.

We may go through the same nonsense again.

My thought …

Just toss Prop 1 in the ditch, and avoid all the court shenanigans that will follow if it passes.

These are slot machines, pure and simple. They’re illegal in Idaho and that’s ultimately how it will shake out.

This whole initiative process has never been about saving horse racing. It’s a money-making scheme for Treasure Valley Racing and few other entities around the state.

So this is obvious …

I’ll be voting no on Proposition 1.


Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.


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