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Idaho coalition to fight ‘historical horse racing’

An Idaho group of state and local political leaders launched a statewide effort on Sept. 5 to oppose a ballot initiative seeking to legalize “historical horse racing.”

The group, known as Idaho United Against Prop 1, announced it was releasing TV and radio ads urging Idaho voters to oppose the ballot initiative in November. They created a political action committee to allow for political spending and fundraising last week with the secretary of state’s office.

“Proposition 1 is about slot machines, not horses, and any attempt by proponents to suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best,” said former Rep. Ken Andrus, a Republican from Lava Hot Springs and chairman of the new political action committee. “We need to protect our communities.”

Andrus, who served in the Idaho Legislature from 2004 to 2016, said in a phone interview that backers of the initiative have misled voters that the legalization of the betting terminals will benefit schools, arguing that Idaho’s education system will only receive a small percent of the machine profits.

According to the proposed initiative, just 0.5 percent of the revenues collected by the betting terminals will go to public schools while 90 percent of the winnings must be distributed to winning wagers.

“The public will weigh in on the issue this November, but they need to know now they’re being deceived,” Andrus said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure every voter knows the consequences, should this pass.”

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill and Idaho Falls businessman and GOP activist Doyle Beck are also members, as well as Garden City Mayor John Evans and Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh.

Historical horse racing involves bettors using terminals to place bets on randomly selected past horse races with no identifiable information about the horses or results. The terminals use pari-mutuel wagering — a betting system that pits bettors against each other and gives the house a percentage of the winnings — which is legal in Idaho.

The lucrative betting machines, also known as “instant racing terminals,” were legal between 2013 and 2015, but lawmakers banned them after deciding they resembled illegal slot machines.

The repeal caused outcries from the state’s horse racing industry, arguing the profitable terminals are crucial to keep live horse racing sustainable because it would help boost purses, a key element in making horse racing competitive in states. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, GOP congressional candidate Russ Fulcher and Boise Mayor David Bieter have all thrown their support behind the initiative.

“This coalition is funded by Coeur d’Alene tribal casino money and, we suspect, out-of-state national casino interests in Nevada,” said Todd Dvorak of Save Idaho Horse Racing. “The money behind Prop 1 opposition tells you all you need to know about the hypocrisy of their effort: casinos are spending money to tell Idahoans that gaming is bad solely to protect their own monopoly, at the expense of Idaho horse racing.”

Idaho United Against Prop 1 did not immediately respond to a question regarding their funding.

Most recently, Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist announced his official endorsement of the initiative. Ahlquist unsuccessfully ran for governor in the May primary.

“Proposition 1 has one clear goal: Revive our state’s struggling live horse racing industry using revenue from a restricted and transparent use of pari-mutuel wagering on historical horse racing,” Ahlquist said in a letter outlining his support.

Until Sept. 5, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe had been the initiative’s most vocal opponent.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the GOP gubernatorial candidate seeking to replace outgoing Otter in November, has previously endorsed historical horse racing but is not a member of the Save Idaho Horse Racing political action committee backing the initiative. Little’s campaign confirmed Wednesday that he supported the initiative.

Meanwhile, former state Rep. Paulette Jordan, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, has previously opposed the effort but was not listed as a member of the opposition coalition on Wednesday. Jordan’s campaign did not return a request for comment.

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