BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Many aspects of Idaho's horse culture, including ranch work and rodeo, depend on a viable horse racing industry, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter said.
The Republican on Thursday made the remarks in his endorsement of a ballot initiative in the November election seeking to legalize horse race betting devices that could revive live horse races in the state.
"It's painful for me to see such an iconic, bedrock industry falling into decline," Otter said. "If you're going to save an iconic opportunity, something that's deep in our culture in Idaho, you've got to save the horse industry."
Democratic Boise Mayor Dave Bieter at the same event also endorsed Proposition 1. The state's most popular race horsing track, Les Bois Park, is just outside the city's west edge. Bieter said it would provide an economic boost if horse racing resumed.
"It's not just a rural issue or an agricultural issue, it goes across the whole state," he said, recalling trips to Les Bois Park with his daughter, who picked potential winners based on a horse's appearance.
Live horse racing declined as gamblers turned to online betting and casinos. The lucrative betting machines that allow users to bet on past horse races are seen as a way to bring it back. They were legal between 2013 and 2015, but lawmakers banned them after deciding they resembled slot machines.
Backers say that while there is a resemblance, the way winning bets are paid is calculated differently from slot machines and makes them legal under Idaho's gambling law.
The state attorney general's office reviewed Proposition 1 for the November ballot. The office noted in its advisory comments to Idaho's Secretary of State Lawerence Denney that the question of whether the machines were legally permissible involved complexities that made the legal status uncertain and "likely to draw a legal challenge."
Opponents of the machines say they simply expand gambling in the state. While slot machines are illegal in Idaho, they are on Indian reservations within the state. The most recent campaign finance reports show that Idahoans United Against Prop 1 raised $2.7 million to defeat the ballot initiative. Almost all of that money came from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe that operates a casino in Worley that's within the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation.