BOISE — Gov. Butch Otter and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter endorsed an initiative that would reauthorize betting terminals at Idaho race tracks during a "bipartisan" announcement Thursday afternoon in Boise.
Otter said he and his wife, first lady Lori Otter, were among the first to sign the petition to get the initiative on the ballot as Proposition 1 in hopes it would rejuvenate Idaho's "diminished" live horse racing industry.
"Fewer race days and vacant tracks are bad for all of us, not just those who run horses," Otter said. "Generations of Idahoans have a direct connection to the horse industry."
Bieter and State Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, both echoed Otter's endorsement and plea to preserve an industry they said was part of Idaho's heritage.
“I know I speak for all the people around the state when I say, let the ponies run," Bieter said.
The campaigns in support and against Proposition 1 have outraised any individual campaign in Idaho's November election, the Idaho Press previously reported. The Committee to Save Idaho Horse Racing reported raising $2.07 million since the May primary — all of it from Treasure Valley Racing LLC, operators of the now-closed Les Bois Park racetrack near Boise.
In the same time period, Idahoans United Against Prop 1 raised $2.7 million, mostly from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.
Les Bois Park, which has been shuttered since lawmakers repealed their short-lived authorization for the betting machines in 2015, long has been Idaho’s biggest horse-racing venue, though other, smaller tracks also host some racing around the state, some of them at county fairgrounds. Les Bois installed 200 of the betting machines after lawmakers legalized them, the highest number in the state.
The initiative doesn’t apply only to Les Bois, however. It would allow unlimited numbers of the machines at one location in each of Idaho’s 44 counties that hosts eight days or more of live horse racing. It also would allow unlimited numbers of the machines at the Greyhound Park in Post Falls, a former dog-racing track that never has hosted horse racing, but that was grandfathered in as an off-track location for wagering on simulcasts of races when lawmakers repealed authorization for dog racing in 1996 out of concern over abuse of the dogs at the track.
Former Gov. Phil Batt previously denied the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's request to build a casino on the Greyhound Park site, where they historically had gatherings. Tribes can only build casinos off the reservation with governor approval. At the time, Batt said gaming should stay on the reservation. If Proposition 1 passes, privately owned historical horse racing terminals at Greyhound Park could compete with the casino the tribe eventually built more than 30 miles away on their reservation.
"I didn’t write that part of the petition," Otter said in reference to the inclusion of Greyhound Park in the initiative. "Would I have? I would have had to take a good hard look at it."
Betsy Z. Russell contributed to this story.