Instant Racing Remains Legal in Idaho…For Now

By: Sam Reinhardt

Instant Racing is set to stay in Idaho, for now. In 2013, Idaho lawmakers approved a bill that legalized pari-mutuel wagering on historical horse racing.[i] The bill was passed to “serve as a supplement, a shot in the arm for a struggling [racing] industry.” [ii] However, in late March 2015, feeling duped, Idaho lawmakers repealed the 2013 bill with Senate Bill 1011, making instant racing machines illegal once again.[iii] The bill’s proponents believed that the instant racing machines were illegal under Idaho’s Constitution claiming that they are “simply glorified slot machines with cherries, spinning numbers and other similarities.” [iv] Idaho Representative Ken Andrus (R-Lava Hot Springs) believed “[the instant racing machines] have gone a direction that we did not intend it to go.”[v] At the time, three licensed racetracks in Idaho had the instant racing machines installed.[vi]

John Sheldon, president of Treasure Valley Racing, which operates a major racetrack in Idaho, strongly opposed Senate Bill 1011.[vii] Sheldon called for the Governor’s intervention in a statement proclaiming, “every legislator who voted for Senate Bill 1011 voted against legal economic growth, against tax paying business owners, against jobs and against due process . . . The fate of an industry, including more than 500 jobs, millions in positive economic impact for the state and the ownership group’s right to due process will now be placed solely in the hands of the governor.”[viii]

Sheldon received the response he was seeking. In April, Idaho Governor Butch Otter vetoed Senate Bill 1011.[ix] In an open letter to the President of the Idaho Senate, the Governor explained his decision: “In vetoing this bill, what I’m seeking is an alternative capable of restoring public confidence in horse racing as a legitimate and even ennobling industry that is tied directly and irrevocably to race tracks, to stalls and starting gates, to paddocks and jockeys, and to people who love the sport.”[x] However, the Governor did place a moratorium on any new instant racing machines in the state and invited the Idaho legislature to join him in appointing a special investigator to assess the legality of the machines.[xi]

With that said, this issue remains unresolved, as the Governor’s veto was not delivered to the Senate until two days after the constitutionally required five-day deadline. [xii] The Senate acknowledged that the bill was late and voted to override the veto, but didn’t have enough votes.[xiii] Thus, the issue pending before the Idaho Supreme Court is whether or not the veto was valid. Proponents of Senate Bill 1011 claim that the Idaho Constitution says if the veto is late, it’s not valid. [xiv] Opponents of the bill argue that because the Senate voted on the veto, they acknowledged the veto as being valid and thus it is valid.[xv]  Oral arguments on the issue occurred on August 11, and the fate of a multi-million dollar racing industry rests in the hands of the Idaho Supreme Court.[xvi]

[i] Idaho Gov. Butch Otter vetoes instant horse racing bill, (Apr. 6, 2015),

[ii] Letter from C.L. “Butch” Otter, Idaho Governor, to The Honorable Brad Little, President, Idaho Senate (Apr. 3, 2015), available at

[iii] S. 1011, 63rd Leg., 1st Reg. Sess. (Id. 2015), available at

[iv] Dustin Hurst, ‘Without Due Process,’ House votes to repeal horse racing law, Idaho Reporter (Mar. 26, 2015),

[v] Justin Corr, Idaho instant horse racing ban awaits Otter’s signature, (March 26, 2015),

[vi] Kimberlee Kruesi, Senate fails to override Otter’s Veto on instant racing, Washington Times (Apr. 6, 2015),

[vii] Corr, supra note v.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Otter, supra note ii.

[x] Id.

[xi] Id.

[xii] Samantha Wright, Idaho Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Ban on Instant Horse Racing, Boise State Public Radio (Aug. 11, 2015),

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] Betsy Russell, Idaho Supreme Court to hear arguments today in instant racing case, (Aug.11, 2015),