- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The state House voted Thursday to repeal a law allowing roughly 200 slot-like betting machines in Idaho and sent the measure to the governor even though the state’s faltering horse racing industry says the bill would put it out of business.

House lawmakers voted 49-21 to repeal the 2013 law approving the horse racing machines. Many members who voted for the measure two years ago said they were duped into approving what were cleverly disguised slot machines, which are illegal in Idaho.

At the time, horse racing representatives argued that without the machines, Idaho’s eight race tracks would close. Unable to compete with the popularity of online gambling and the state lottery, instant horse racing - betting on a horse race with no identifiable information- was the key to their financial stability.

“We thought we were supporting a game of skill. It turns out, that isn’t what we got,” said Republican Rep. Luke Malek from Coeur d’Alene, who voted in favor of the repeal. “We have to take responsibility.”

Republican Rep. Christy Perry, who sponsored the bill in 2013, argued that repealing the law could be a fatal strike to the state’s horse racing industry. Perry called on lawmakers to fix the law by adding more guidelines or a regulatory board.

“It’s blowing everything out of the water,” she said. “They’ve invested millions. People’s jobs are on the line. So I don’t think this is a viable option.”

The plan prompted two hours of discussion from more than two dozen lawmakers.

Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter hasn’t said whether he will sign the ban, but it’s likely that lawmakers could override his veto, since the bill passed both chambers with a two-thirds majority.

“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,” John Sheldon, president of Treasure Valley Racing, operator of Les Bois Park, said in a statement.

The bill -backed by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe- passed the Senate 25-9 in February.

Idaho’s state constitution explicitly bans slot machines as well as any electronic imitation of casino gambling. Idaho law only permits gambling in three instances - the Idaho lottery, tribal gambling on reservations, and horse racing, or pari-mutuel betting.

Supporters of the machines argued that lawmakers should wait until they have been challenged in court. Northern Idaho police are currently in the middle of an investigation over the legality of the machines.

“I can’t think of another instance when we went out and just yanked the rug out from somebody without allowing them due process,” Perry said. “It really isn’t our place to decide constitutionality.”

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