Idaho Proposition 1

Let’s talk about Proposition 1.

It’s not about horse racing.

It’s not about schools.

It is about Idaho’s Constitution.

In the Certificate of Review for Proposition 1, Attorney General Wasden notes, “The status of historical horse racing as legally permissible pari-mutuel betting under [Idaho’s Constitution] art. Ill, sec. 20 is uncertain and likely to draw a legal challenge.”

But wait? Isn’t pari-mutual betting legal in Idaho?

Yes, and the Supreme Court ruled it covers betting on live and simulcast horse races at Idaho tracks. You assess the odds, pick your favorite horse, and place a wager. Your money then enters a pool with a bunch of other folks to be shared by the winners. “The competition between pool participants with respect to the same race or group of races” represents a critical element of pari-mutual betting.

Think about it this way. Imagine you and a group of friends agree to wager on a coin toss. You assess your odds (50/50), pick your side, and after the flip, you have a set of winners with a claim to the pool.

Then, why the questions about historical horse racing as outlined in Proposition 1?

Let’s go back to our coin toss. Instead of one coin, now your group has the option to bet on multiple tosses happening at the same time. You place your wager, and the betting pool grows. But there’s a catch. Did you really compete against your friends?

Instant Horse Terminals (IRTs) do show historical horse races and provide performance data on those races to help players assess their options before placing a bet. That said, remember the friends wagering on multiple coin tosses? Something similar happens on IRTs.

The software running these machines can replay many races on different machines at the same time. As written, Prop 1 “does not define the nature of historical horse race wagering pools or whether pool participants compete against one another with respect to the outcome of the same race or series of races.”

It may seem like a small detail. But if all the races are different, the wager pool isn’t filled with people competing against each other directly. Instead, the pool compiles everyone’s bet, regardless of the race, and pays all winners from the same pool.

This lack of guaranteed, direct competition and other questions about the language used in Proposition 1, led to this statement in the Attorney General’s opinion:

“It does appear quite possible that the initiative’s adoption will result in litigation over whether historical horse race wagering, if conducted on instant racing video terminals comparable to those discussed above, is pari-mutuel gambling exempted under the constitutional provision.”

I appreciate the intentions of Prop 1’s supporters. They believe historical horse racing can restore Idaho’s horse tracks and revitalize a much-beloved industry. But if passed as written, Prop 1 all but guarantees that the State of Idaho will end up in court defending it against a constitutional challenge.

I encourage you to vote against Proposition 1 on November 6.