Simulcast betting on horse racing as well as pari-mutuel betting is already legal in Idaho. But an amendment to the existing law signed by Gov. Butch Otter will change the complexion of simulcast betting by allowing simulcast facilities to transfer licenses within the county.

Essentially, this allows simulcast horse betting from venues other than a live horse racing facility, which is now the only locale where such bets are permitted. Since the tracks throughout Idaho that have horse racing and betting are mostly at county fairgrounds, the facilities aren’t always the best suited for attracting betters.

Off-track betting facilities should offer quality seating, food and other incentives to attract paying customers to bet on races, according to supporters of the bill.

Under the bill (H 191), carried in the House by Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, each of the county fairs with a simulcast license could offer off-track betting in the same county — or negotiate with another county — to set up shop, provided local government officials sign off on such deals. If they decide there is no suitable place in the existing county and wish to transfer the license to another county, that county must not have had any type of horse racing for the previous five years.

Opponents of the bill argued that this amendment expands gambling in the state and puts Idaho on a slippery slope toward expanding all types of gambling. Rep Brent Crane, R-Nampa, worries the bill does just that. “This will expand gambling within the state of Idaho. Make no mistake, you can say it how you want, but this will expand gambling in the state.”

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, also argued against the bill saying that the new language allowing these licenses to switch to a different venue is too vague. He said the wording opens the door to allow this type of horse betting in all 44 counties.

According to Bilbao, “that’s absolutely false.” Bilbao believes that the same people who have bet on horse racing at these venues in the past will be the same people who bet on them now. He also added, “These facilities will probably only offer the simulcast betting three days a week. More than likely it will be Thursday, Friday, Saturday. I don’t think there will be anything on Sundays.”

Betting on simulcast races is currently allowed in eight locations – at the county fairgrounds in Blackfoot, Burley, Emmett, Rupert, Jerome, Idaho Falls, Malad City and Pocatello, where a limited number of live races is offered every year.

Simply moving the venues within the county isn’t a guarantee of making money, supporters of the bill point out. Simulcast racing can get very expensive, especially if the venue decides to pick up races from prominent well-known races, such as Santa Anita, or the newly formed Dubai World Cup. In order for a venue to show these races, it must pay for them. Not only do they pay just to carry them, but they must also give them a percentage of the betting.

The money from simulcast betting covers three basic things. First, the expenses from the facility are covered. Second, funds will be distributed to the Idaho Horse Board for youth programs as well as the Robert R. Lee Promise Scholarship program, a state scholarship project that awards 25 scholarships of up to $3,000 annually to students attending Idaho’s trade schools, colleges and universities. The scholarship is named after a former state senator. Third, the remaining money goes back to local horseman to improve the horse racing product in Idaho.

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