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Idaho House panel endorses creation of gaming commission

StatehouseWinterSquare_web-600x576Increased scrutiny over the variety of Idaho’s slot-like machines has lawmakers calling for a new oversight board to regulate and investigate gambling throughout the state.

The House State Affairs Committee introduced the proposal March 17. According to the legislation, a seven-member Gaming Commission would oversee all gambling, including Idaho tribal gaming, horse racing and state lottery gambling. It would also dissolve the state’s current racing and lottery commissions.

“It might be a good idea for us to look at a gaming commission, recognizing we probably need to enhance regulation over the various forms of gambling in Idaho,” said Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who introduced the proposal.

Slot machines have been illegal in Idaho since the 1950s. However, allegations from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe that the horse-racing industry has improperly installed slot-like machines — which has evolved into repeal legislation making its way through the Statehouse— have sparked criticism from both sides.

Horse-racing representatives argue that the tribes operate slot machines on their reservations and do not want to compete with the lucrative electronic instant-racing betting terminals. Meanwhile, others have pointed out that the Idaho Lottery has quietly unveiled electronic versions of paper pull-tabs that also closely resemble slot machines.

During a lengthy hearing, a House panel recently expressed alarm after a member of the state’s Racing Commission told lawmakers he did not know there were concerns over the horse racing betting machines. “I think it’s essential given what we’ve heard, we need a process to investigate these allegation to make sure these machines are compliant in all forms of the law,” said Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens.

Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane first suggested the idea of a gaming commission while speaking during a hearing February about repealing instant horse racing. Kane added that his office has little authority to investigate claims regarding gambling.

Police in northern Idaho are currently investigating the legality of the horse-racing machines; however, the Idaho Legislature has advanced the repeal legislation. It has already passed the Senate, and a House committee is expected to vote on the proposal soon.

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