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Save Idaho Horse Racing is Good for Jobs, Schools

July 14, 2018 GMT

In a series of recent columns in the wake of Idaho’s primary elections, political pundits handicapping the upcoming November’s general election have emphasized the impact economic issues will have on the mood and mindset of voters.

I can’t help but agree. It’s hard to imagine that Idaho’s revved-up economy, robust housing markets and low unemployment won’t be part of the equation when voters head to the polls to elect a new governor and decide other important races in November.

Voters should also think about influencing prosperity in our state when they consider voting on Proposition 1. This initiative, approved for the ballot by the secretary of state just a few days ago, is all about reviving Idaho’s rich horse racing traditions and the industry that for decades has been fundamental to live horse racing, whether at venues like Les Bois Park or the smaller tracks across the state.

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Proposition 1, or what I like to call “Save Idaho Horse Racing,” is about creating a sustainable, self-supporting economic environment for horse racing. It’s about restoring jobs—putting the trainers, farriers, jockeys back to work at tracks and family farms. A Boise State University study concluded that horse racing supports more than 530 jobs statewide and contributed more than $50 million in annual payroll, sales, goods and services in 2015.

Voting “Yes” on Prop 1 means supporting our schools, students and teachers. If approved, it’s estimated that millions of dollars will be deposited in years to come into the Public School Income Fund, money that will help classrooms in all corners of the state.

The initiative also creates resources and opportunity for Idaho breeders and our children. The ballot language specifically calls for setting aside tens of thousands of dollars annually for thoroughbred and quarter horse breeders as well as the Idaho Horse Council’s youth activities and programs account.

My family has been actively involved in breeding, training and racing horses for decades. But it’s no secret Idaho’s live racing world has suffered serious setbacks since the Legislature repealed the use of historic horse racing terminals in 2015.

Revenue from historic horse racing was essential to supporting live racing here in our state, and the loss of that revenue has been devastating. Les Bois Park has been shuttered for three straight seasons and racing at other tracks has diminished.

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Breeders, trainers and jockeys who once competed here and spent money locally have taken their business elsewhere, to states like New Mexico, Oregon and California. Currently, three of the nation’s top 10 racing quarter horses were bred right here in Idaho.

But those horses are now in Southern California and may never get the chance to race back here at home. The decline has also taken a toll on many local veterinarians, farriers, farm hands and feed and tack stores that served the live racing industry.

But from a broader perspective, Proposition 1 is also about fairness and transparency. I expect strong opposition to this initiative will come from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which as one pundit wrote, benefits handsomely from its “current monopoly on Idaho gaming.”

Many Idaho voters may recall supporting the tribe’s own gaming initiative that appeared on the ballot in 2002. Voter approval of that measure paved the way for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to build a casino in north Idaho and earn millions by offering Las Vegas-style gambling.

Proposition 1 would re-establish historic horse racing, which is a different form of gaming allowed at casinos. Historic horse racing terminals operate under a pari-mutuel betting system, meaning all bets are pooled with at least 90 percent of wagers returned to the winning players. This is a very different concept than players betting against “The House” in casino-style gaming.

Proposition 1 clearly states that these historic horse racing terminals would be limited to tracks where at least 8 live horse races are held and comply with Idaho law that provides for pari-mutuel betting, which is legal under Idaho’s constitution.

Idaho is hardly unique in its reliance on other revenue generating sources to support live racing. Historic horse racing is a proven catalyst for reviving live horse racing. In fact, more than 20 other states use some type of alternative revenue source to bolster live racing, including Virginia, which recently legalized historic horse racing.

Before all the political posturing, wrangling, and lobbyist maneuvering in Boise, these terminals operated legally in Idaho for almost two years, generating revenue for schools and providing the financial support for the kind of healthy, competitive live racing that drew thousands of fans to the stands.

This November, the people of Idaho can finally settle the issue at the ballot box, rather than leaving it in the hands of politicians and lobbyists. It’s my hope that Idahoans will vote “Yes” for Prop 1 and in the process save Idaho horse racing and the jobs and other benefits it creates.

Mark Brown lives in American Falls and works in sales at his local John Deere dealership. For more than 30 years, he and his family have bred and raced Quarter Horses. Brown is a member of the American Quarter Horse Association Race Council and is chairman of the American Quarter Horse Association Racing Committee.

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