BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Officials with the Idaho Racing Commission say they’ll run out of money by 2018, leaving them unable to regulate the state’s horse racing industry unless lawmakers help funnel funds their way.
However, top Republican leaders say they no longer trust the racing industry because of their ongoing efforts to reinstate illegal instant racing betting terminals. Instant horse racing allows bettors to place wages on prior horse races with no identifiable information.
“We’re still pushing forward in the direction that we are, and as a result, I’ve lost confidence in the commission,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis said Monday during a Senate State Affairs Committee meeting.
Davis‘ comments came after the commission’s lone employee, Ardie Noyes, presented a new funding proposal to prevent a pending financial crisis. With the recent closure of the state’s largest horse racing track, the commission has lost its primary revenue source and is scrambling to find a temporary solution.
The panel agreed to introduce the commission’s proposal on a 5-4 vote, with all Republican legislative leaders voting against. Yet Monday’s tense exchange signaled that the commission will face an uphill battle convincing skeptical lawmakers to help them out when many of members fear the commission is working with Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s office to circumvent the Legislature.
In 2015, lawmakers banned instant horse racing after concerns were raised the machines resembled illegal slot machines. The move was a blow to the horse racing industry, which sees the machines as the only key to boost revenues.
The racing commission then promised to repeal all administrative rules regulating instant horse racing by 2017, but to date, have not done so. That’s because the commission was contacted by Otter’s office and agreed not to pursue to the rules repeal during a special Nov. 29 meeting.
Otter, who has ties and friends in the horse racing world, has repeatedly said he feels Idaho’s Western culture was at stake and has urged the Legislature to find a compromise that would allow horsemen to continue pursuing a livelihood that included instant racing.
“If there is any effort in the upcoming session or any future sessions to promote horse racing, we don’t want the rescinding of this rule to hurt any proposals,” said Shoni Pegram, with the governor’s office, according to minutes of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.
Two months later, the commission held a meeting in January to discuss a last-ditch effort to save their faltering industry that would require approving a temporary rule to allow instant horse racing.
Administrative rules are created by executive agencies to enforce state laws and carry the same weight as laws. Agencies such as the racing commission can approve temporary rules if they meet certain criteria and are approved by the governor’s office - but all temporary rules ultimately need legislative approval to remain in effect long-term.
No decision was made during the meeting, but lawmakers are already alarmed.
“A promise was made a year ago to this committee and the commission didn’t keep that promise,” Davis said. “Why in the world should I print (your bill) until the commission acts on the prior promise it made to this committee?”
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