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UPDATE: Les Bois Park Announces End of Historic Horse Racing, 80 Layoffs


The Idaho Legislature complains that the historic horse racing machines look too much like slot machines. - PATRICK SWEENEY
  • Patrick Sweeney
  • The Idaho Legislature complains that the historic horse racing machines look too much like slot machines.

UPDATE, Friday, Sept. 11, 4 p.m.:
Officials with Les Bois Park in Garden City announced this afternoon they had shuttered the race track's historic horse racing facility.

The closure follows an Idaho Supreme Court ruling Sept. 10 overturning Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's veto of a law that would have banned the gambling machines. The announcement from Les Bois came shortly after Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney certified the law, otherwise known as SB1011.

According to a statement from John Sheldon, president of track operator Treasure Valley Racing, 80 employees involved in historic horse racing operations were laid off.

"While our Turf Club restaurant, bar and simulcast wagering area remain open at this time, we are assessing the future viability of operating Les Bois Park and conducting a live meet next year," Sheldon stated.

ORIGINAL POST, Friday, Sept. 10:45 a.m.:
Score 1 for the Idaho Legislature, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter: 0.

Idaho's highest court agreed Sept. 10 to overturn Otter's veto of a bill banning so-called historic horse racing that passed through Statehouse in March. Idaho Supreme Court justices ruled Otter's veto, issued in in April, was invalid because it came in late, according to Boise State Public Radio.

Idaho legislators this past session denounced the gambling machines, which had popped up at three race tracks around the state, as little more than slot machines. Several lawmakers said they felt like victims in a bait-and-switch after passing a law two years ago that allowed the machines.

"It was my understanding that you would have your own machine, where you could watch a race that had been run in the past, you would still be provided with the information on the horse and the jockey ... You would either win, or you would tear up your ticket," Rexburg Republican Sen. Brent Hill said during debate in the Senate Chambers in February.

"That's what I pictured," he added. "This is what I got: I walked into Les Bois [Park] and there were rows and rows of machines that looked like what I would see in Las Vegas. They had lights and spinning wheels and fruits and berries all over them; they sound like slot machines, and they act like slot machines, too."

Hill said rather than a sport—like live horse racing—the machines offered a "cheap game of chance."

"If we were given the full picture, we would have never approved this illegal form of gambling," he said.

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 25-9 in favor of repealing the law to allow historic horse racing, which would require all 250 machines be removed from the state. The Idaho House of Representatives passed the bill as well, 49-21, but when it got to Otter's desk, he pulled out his veto stamp.

The Senate then tried to override the governor's veto, but fell five votes short of the needed two-thirds majority.

Opponents of the machines were quick to point out that a Post Falls race track and the operators of Les Bois Park in Garden City pushed more than $92,000 toward Otter's reelection campaign, according to The Spokesman-Review. That's more than four times than the Coeur d'Alene Tribe—which opposed the machines—gave the governor.

"I stand by my word as well as my earlier decision to veto this legislation," Otter stated in response to the Court's decision yesterday. "It is clear the Senate took up my veto and voted to uphold it. While I disagree with [the Sept. 10] ruling, I will continue working toward a solution that ensures a viable live horse racing industry in Idaho."

Otter insisted he vetoed the bill within the time allowed under the Idaho Constitution and made a point to tell Hill about the veto before it got out in the press. It wasn't his fault the Senate was already adjourned for the long Easter weekend, the statement suggested.

Horse racing tracks argue they need the machines in order to stay in business. During debate in the Legislature this past spring, Les Bois Park threatened to close its doors should the law banning historic horse racing pass.

John Sheldon, president of Treasure Valley Racing, which operates Les Bois Park, also released a statement in reaction to the Supreme Court decision.

"Treasure Valley Racing is obviously extremely disappointed in the Court's ruling," he stated. "It comes on the heels of a 32-day live race schedule at Les Bois Park that would not have occurred without the infusion that historical horse racing brings to this industry."

Sheldon added the season dispersed almost $2 million to horsemen, employed 280 Idahoans and contributed $2.67 million in taxes to the state. 

"We are currently reviewing all of our options and assessing the significant impact that complying with the Court's order will have on the immediate and long-term future of Les Bois Park," he stated.

The unanimous Supreme Court decision directs Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to certify the law making the machines illegal.