Legislation introduced to fund the state’s racing commission

March 7, 2019

BOISE — In an effort to fund the Idaho Racing Commission, which is expected to run out of money by the end of this year’s racing season, legislation has been introduced that would finance the organization through 2022.

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday introduced the bill, sponsored by chairwoman Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, which lays out the framework for how the state’s racing commission will be funded over the next several years. The bill was introduced in committee and will have a full hearing later next week, Lodge said.

The racing commission licenses, regulates and supervises live and simulcast races in Idaho, where gamblers place their bets and watch races on TV. There are seven racing tracks across the state in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Burley, Gooding, Blackfoot, Rupert and Malad City.

“We met several times as horsemen to try and come up with where we could get some money,” said Clayton Russell, vice president for racing for the Idaho Quarter Horse Association. “The small tracks are just barely getting along — taking from them would put them out of business, frankly.”

Currently, the state agency is funded through fees collected from licenses, pari-mutuel betting and simulcasting. The bill says that the commission would be funded through advance-deposit wagering, a process that lets people go online and bet on race outcomes, but bettors must fund their accounts before placing bets.

With the decrease in simulcast sites across the state — there’s now just two, one in Post Falls and one Idaho Falls — the commission is running out of money, according to Lodge.

“We’re actually paying over double to the sites than what they contribute,” Russell said.

If the bill passes, 30 percent of funds from the simulcast sites, which would be limited to $30,000, would go to the commission — 60 percent of that would then help fund the commission, and 40 percent would be used for hair testing, which tests a horse for drugs.

Lodge told the Idaho Press the closure of Les Bois Park in Garden City last year had a direct impact on the commission’s funding.

“You figure those trainers and those people that are jockeys and the owners — they all have licenses,” Lodge said. “That all went into fund the commission and funded the drug testing.”

The bill changes the way some funds are distributed to the commission. Currently, they supply about $41,000 to the school fund, which Russell said was unnecessary.

“That might be a big issue for some of the folks who say, ‘Well, you’re taking $41,000 from the schools,’ but if you don’t have that money, then there’s not going to be taxes coming in on other things, which support the schools — it’s kind of a quagmire,” Lodge said.

With the bill, that school fund money would be transferred to the commission. The commission would also have its current income from licensing, which is about $108,000. Altogether, with the 60 percent from simulcast sites, the school fund money and its income, the commission would have about $262,000, leaving roughly $75,000 to fund hair testing for horses.

Majority caucus chair Kelly Arthur Anthon, R-Burley, spoke in support of introducing the bill.

“I think this is worthy of further discussion,” Anthon said.