Don’t confuse legal betting and ‘horse racing’

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That’s the answer to a question plenty of readers have sent me since the federal government officially legalized sports betting.

Here’s a paraphrased version of what people have been asking …

Is the possibility of sports betting in Idaho connected to the initiative about horse racing that could be on the November ballot?

No, no, no.

The only thing the two issues have in common is that both may take a very long time to play out at the state level.

The sports betting option is totally in the hands of the Idaho Legislature which, in my opinion at least, should find a way to legalize some form of wagering in the state.

The tax revenue would be healthy, to say the least, and there’s no question it’s needed in a state that doesn’t want to burden citizens with other forms of taxation.

This one would be purely a “use tax” paid only by those who bet, through the businesses that handle it.

I’ve lived in Great Britain, where sports betting is legal throughout the country. There are betting shops most everywhere, and the UK government reaps a tremendous windfall from it.

Several states here are already prepared to open betting parlors, including some (West Virginia and Mississippi come to mind) that are desperate for revenue.

The smart money, however, suggests that Idaho will wait to see how legal sports betting works in some other states before our Legislature even considers the leap.

NOW THEN, the other issue mentioned in your questions: the horse racing initiative.

This one could be gone quite soon, or it might drag out through a series of court challenges.

See, the initiative is more about slot machine-type devices than it is about horse racing — which is already legal in Idaho.

A group called Treasure Valley Racing wants to put these machines in the currently closed Les Bois horse track near Boise. They would also become legal at Greyhound Park in Post Falls.

So, option one: The initiative doesn’t make it to the ballot for lack of valid signatures, or it’s rejected by voters. In either case, it disappears quickly.

Option Two: Voters approve the machines.

The Legislature outlawed the same devices in 2015 because they believed slot-type games of chance were prohibited by the state constitution (except on Native American tribal land, and then only in compacts with the state government).

PROMOTERS of the initiative insist that these machines will feature pari-mutuel wagering on Historic Horse Racing (HHR) and thus would comply with Idaho law.

However, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden already has offered a written opinion that states the machines would not offer true pari-mutuel wagering, and that an immediate court challenge was certain to follow an approval of the initiative.

Wasden did not address another issue, which is that the machines would not reward “skill,” but pure chance — making them the equivalent of slot machines, and thus illegal.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe and other Native American casino operators would file lawsuits against the Treasure Valley machines before the ink was dry on the election results.

So unless the initiative never gets off the ground, it’s a cinch to crawl through the courts.

Sports wagering options and Historic Horse Racing machines are not connected and have almost nothing in common — except that neither will have a positive resolution anytime soon.

Bet on it.


Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press. A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week.


Twitter: @BrandNewDayCDA

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