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'Instant Racing' Pulls Idaho Lawmakers Between Pro-Business, Moral Views

Jessica Robinson
Northwest News Network
The Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls is one of three locations that have installed 'instant racing' machines since 2013.

Several hundred gambling devices in Idaho would become illegal under a bill now headed to the House floor.

The repeal has been a particularly tough issue for some conservative lawmakers.

In 2013, the legislature allowed race track operators to install so-called “instant racing machines” that use data from historical horse races. But lawmakers weren’t prepared for how much the devices would resemble slot machines, which are illegal in Idaho.

“I believe we were misled in committee two years ago when these were presented,” Republican Rep. Lynn Luker said. He and other lawmakers want to stop the spread of the machines.

For many conservative lawmakers, gambling is a moral issue. But race track operators appealed to another conservative value: they said their businesses depend on the cash that comes in from instant racing.

House State Affairs Committee chair Tom Loertscher said the whole issue has been a daily struggle for him.

“It is that contentious,” he said. “It is that problematic for me personally, morally.”

Ultimately the full repeal passed committee 15-2 and if it passes the House, it goes to the governor’s desk.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which operates a casino in north Idaho, backed the bill. The lobbyist for the tribe argued the machines meet the definition of slot machines and violate Idaho’s constitution.

Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri, who cast one of the two dissenting votes, said that still hasn’t been determined. He argued the tribe has its own business motives for opposing instant racing.

“This particular bill … does appear to be knee-jerk,” Barbieri said. “A reaction to a complaint that is brought by a competitor.”