When you vote, you have to pick a side. The same goes for an endorsement.
That’s unfortunate in the case of Proposition 1, which would re-legalize instant racing terminals. If it were possible to vote against both the proponents and the opponents of Prop 1, that’s what we’d recommend. But since it isn’t, you should vote the measure down.
It’s hard to find clarity in the bizarre legal regime Idaho has built around gambling, where the lottery is legal, but poker isn’t; and betting the ponies is hallowed tradition, while duckweed sprouts from old slot machines tossed in the Snake River.
What we’ve watched play out in recent months has been an ugly, multimillion-dollar advertising fight full of dodgy arguments from both sides.
Instant racing terminals were created for deception. Horse racing has been in decline nationally. In many places, the industry turned to slot machines to fill purses that the shrinking crowds no longer would. But in states like Idaho, where there’s a prohibition on slots, they needed a back door.
The solution was instant racing terminals, which are essentially slot machines where the outcome is determined by a randomly selected horse race instead of a random number generator. Instant racing machines are slots custom built for states where slots are illegal.
The proponents declare that these terminals are not slot machines. Recall the old Richard Pryor bit about a man, caught cheating, who asks his wife: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”
We know a slot machine when we see one.
The opponents, funded primarily by tribes who stand to lose gambling revenue from new competition, have at times been little better.
Casinos will spread across the state, we hear, when Prop 1 only authorizes it at tracks that hold eight days of live racing.
Another red herring: Instant racing will cause a crime wave.
If you throw a rock in Montana, it’s sure to hit a gambling parlor, then bounce off and hit three more. But crime rates there are below the national average. Empirical studies of the link between casinos and crime rates are all over the map. If there’s a link between casinos and crime, it’s a relatively weak one.
Our decision comes down to this: Passing Prop 1 will waste taxpayers’ money.
It’s easy to see that the Idaho Supreme Court could rule instant racing machines are “electronic or electromechanical imitations” of slot machines specifically barred by the Idaho Constitution.
You can expect a lawsuit testing the question to be filed instantly if Prop 1 passes.
Give them credit, the proponents of Prop 1 have been clever. They’ve constructed the ballot initiative in a similar way to the 2002 initiative that allowed tribal gaming. It includes a provision saying that instant racing machines won’t count as slot machines under the Idaho Constitution.
Though the tribes succeeded in defending the legality of their machines, there’s reason to believe the horse racing industry won’t.
Federal courts have found that states can enforce their criminal prohibitions against gambling on Indian reservations, but they can’t exercise regulatory power over them. If a state outlaws gambling, it can outlaw it on reservations too. If it allows some gambling, it doesn’t have a lot of power to dictate what forms of gambling sovereign tribes can offer.
Horse tracks aren’t sovereign entities.
These are complicated, intricate legal questions that any enterprising attorney would love to hash out in great detail — for $200 per hour. And since the state would have to defend the law, you can expect to pick up the bill.