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All Bets Are Off

"In the absence of another revenue source, we don't believe running Les Bois Park is financially viable. We therefore are closing down all operations."

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When Treasure Valley Racing reopened the gates of Les Bois Park in July 2011, bringing back live horse racing to the Treasure Valley after three years, most Idahoans had never heard of "historical horse racing." More important, TVR managers didn't say anything about the gambling devices when they promised to generate 300 jobs at the race track.

Fewer than five years later, TVR President John Sheldon announced the track would go dark again, and he specifically pointed to the absence of the devices, which allow gamblers to bet off of a massive database of previous races.

"In the absence of another revenue source, we don't believe running Les Bois Park is financially viable," said Sheldon on March 20. "We therefore are closing down all operations."

The controversial machines first came to most Idahoans' attention in 2013, when the Idaho Legislature allowed racetracks to introduce historical horse racing devices. Soon enough, hundreds of the machines were cling-clanging at turf clubs attached to the racetracks. Two years later, more than a few lawmakers said they had been duped and were not aware that the machines were so similar to slot machines, which are illegal in Idaho. The issue took on an extra level of melodrama when, after the Legislature voted to kill the machines, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter vetoed the vote, giving racetrack owners a temporary reprieve to keep the machines going.

Meanwhile, the Legislature said Otter's veto wasn't valid because it came in too late. The issue even ended up before the Idaho Supreme Court, which, in September 2015, overturned Otter's veto, thus killing the machines one more time.

TVR pinned its last hopes this year on Senate Bill 1220, which would have voided the 2015 vote that killed the gambling machines. The 2016 Legislature was having none of it, and refused to hold hearings on the measure.