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Legislature Kills 'Instant Horse Racing' Gambling, Bill Heads to Governor

"This bill is a nuclear option."

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The Idaho House pulled the plug on hundreds of controversial gambling devices Thursday, March 26, which it said were legal only two years ago.

Dubbed "historical horse racing" or "instant horse racing," the machines were the subject of sometimes emotional debate throughout the Thursday morning session.

The House voted 49-21 on Senate Bill 1011, repealing the 2-year-old law that allowed three Idaho racetracks to install the gambling machines. Opponents have argued that the devices are too similar to slot machines, which are illegal in the Gem State, while proponents argued that the revenues were necessary to keep the doors open at the tracks.

In a statement to employees and customers earlier this week, Treasure Valley Racing, which operates Les Boise Park in Garden City, stated that its operations would go dark should the law be repealed.

The measure has already passed through the Idaho Senate and now heads to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter for his signature or veto.

Voting against the bill were Reps. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa; Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens; Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell; Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls; Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls; Gary Collins, R-Nampa; Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay; Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly; Marc Gibbs, R-Grace; Hy Kloc, D-Boise; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d'Alene; Mike Moyle, R-Plummer; Christy Perry, R-Nampa; Eric Redman, R-Athol; Heather Scott, R-Blanchard; Caroline Troy, R-Genesee; Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree; Fred Wood, R-Burley; and Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa.

There were two separate attempts to kill the measure: one to "lay the bill on the table" and another to send the it to general orders. The effort to table the bill went down in a 43-25 vote and House Speaker Bedke said that the attempt to send the bill to general orders was out of order. 

"This bill is a nuclear option," said Barbieri, arguing against the measure. "The facts are not all in yet, and the jury should have all the facts; don't you agree?"

But Boise Rep. Lynn Luker pushed back, saying, "If we have a nuclear option, it's because a bomb has been previously planted."

Perry, who was the original sponsor of the bill legalizing instant horse racing in 2012, became emotional when she responded to the suggestion among some lawmakers that they had been "duped" into voting for a law that legalized gambling.  

"I did not lie. In front of God and everybody here, I can't listen anymore to three months of how you were lied to. I have been hurt by the things that have been said here and in the newspapers. I want you to know that nobody lied to you," she said.

Coeur d'Alene Republican Rep. Luke Malek, who voted in favor of the 2012 measure to approve the machines, said, "I have not been proud of what has transpired. What we brought was not horse racing. We broke this legislatively and we need to fix this legislatively."

When Perry argued a second time, she challenged lawmakers on how they voted on similar measures.

"If you voted for the lottery, you voted for gambling. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and be truthful," said Perry.

That comment inspired Mountain Home Republican Rep. Pete Nielsen to fire back: "I take exception to be called hypocritical."

Even Bedke cautioned Perry: "It really did push the limits," he said.

Minutes later, the full House had the final say in the matter, voting to roll back instant horse racing, but more than a few legislators conceded that it may not be the end of the debate.

"I'm positive there will be litigation," said the repeal bill's House sponsor Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Spring. "This will open the door, so let the litigation begin."

Within an hour of the bill's passage by the Idaho House, Treasure Valley Racing officials said Wednesday was "a very disappointing day for Idaho."

"Every legislator who voted for Senate Bill 1011 voted against legal economic growth, against tax-paying business owners, against jobs and against due process," wrote TVR. "We appreciate those representatives who see the issue for what it really is and debated and voted against Senate Bill 1011."

TVR said the "fate of an industry, including more than 500 jobs," now was placed "solely in the hands of the Governor."