Support Local Journalism


New ads are airing statewide both for and against Proposition 1, the racing initiative on the November ballot, and both sides’ claims check out.

However, each side is accusing the other of deception, in a continuing war of words between the backers and opponents of the measure that would legalize profitable slot machine-like betting machines at Idaho horse racetracks.

“These ads really do form a dialogue; they address and respond to each other,” said Jaclyn Kettler, Boise State University political scientist.

After an earlier ad in favor of the initiative was pulled amid concerns about false claims and use of an edited clip from a Boise news anchor, the new pro-Prop. 1 ad is all about motivations.

Backers of the initiative, who co-own Treasure Valley Racing, operators of Les Bois Park, recently announced that they’ve formed a charitable foundation, seeded it with an initial $100,000, and dedicated all their future net profits from horse racing or “historical horse racing” betting machines to the foundation. In their new ad, they focus on the good things they want to accomplish for Idaho through the measure. “A heart for Idaho. More good reasons to vote yes on Prop. 1,” the ad says.

Natalie Podgorski, spokeswoman for the group opposing the initiative, Idaho United Against Prop 1, counters, “Les Bois Park is just one race track and Proposition 1 has the potential to impact many more locations statewide, including Sandy Downs in Idaho Falls and the Greyhound Park in Post Falls. Neither of these organizations have signaled they will do anything with their net profits other than pocket it.”

She’s correct that the charitable pledge has come only from the Les Bois Park operators. When the betting machines were briefly legal in Idaho, Les Bois Park installed 200 of them, the most in the state. Two other locations, a sports bar in Idaho Falls tied to Sandy Downs, and the Greyhound Park in Post Falls, a defunct dog racetrack, also installed smaller numbers of the machines.

The initiative would allow unlimited numbers of the machines to be installed at up to one site in each of Idaho’s 44 counties, as long as the site hosts at least eight days of live horse racing a year — or is the Post Falls facility, which has never hosted horse racing.

The new ad against the initiative features former state Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, shown on and around horses, decrying the initiative as “an unlimited expansion of gambling statewide” and saying the initiative is really “about gambling.”

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for the Campaign to Save Idaho Horse Racing, calls the new ad’s “unlimited” claim misleading, noting the requirement for live horse racing at all but one of the sites where the betting machines would be allowed. He also criticized the ad for repeating an earlier claim that operators would “take 18 times more money than schools get,” because that refers to the share of gross revenues that would go to operators and schools. Operators would have to cover all their costs out of that share, he notes, so the ratio actually would be less.

However, that is the breakdown of the revenues that is listed in the initiative.

“Proposition 1 is (about) reviving Idaho’s horse racing industry,” Dvorak told the Idaho Falls Post Register this week. “The mechanism for doing that is a limited and restricted form of gaming. … To say this is all about gambling is again stretching the truth and misleading Idaho voters.”

The change the initiative would make in Idaho law is to reauthorize “historical horse racing” betting machines, which state lawmakers legalized in 2013, then repealed authorization for in 2015 after seeing the actual machines. They include a tiny screen that shows a few seconds of the end of a randomly selected past horse race, as reels spin, bells ring, and betters win or lose. The lucrative machines also are called “instant racing” machines; in other states, their profits have helped revitalize horse racetracks. The initiative also specifies distribution of proceeds. One-half of one percent would go to the state’s public school fund.Kettler said what’s most striking about the new ads is their tone. The pro-Prop 1 ad focuses on the “heart” of the initiative’s backers, while the anti-Prop 1 ad goes after them in a fairly personal way, that “really does sound like an indictment of them.”

She said that’s particularly evident when Andrus says, “I know the people behind Prop 1 and they’ve made a lot of promises.”

“I am quite interested in what the effects of these ads have been, and what people’s perceptions are,” Kettler said. “Are they now more nuanced than they were before, do they have more information? Or do they just notice that there are a lot of ads, and a lot of them are negative? It’s interesting. It’s been an interesting campaign.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

Load comments