Idaho will vote this fall on legalizing horse-race gambling machines

In November, Idahoans will be able to vote on a measure that would legalize historical horse racing, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney announced Tuesday.

An initiative to reinstate the gambling machines was deemed eligible for the fall ballot nearly two weeks after supporters dropped off boxes of signatures for review. The initiative needed at least 56,192 valid signatures, with a certain amount coming from at least 18 of Idaho's 35 legislative districts.

The Secretary of State's Office did not say how many of the nearly 115,000 signatures that supporters collected were deemed valid.

If approved, the measure would legalize gambling terminals that allow users to bet on the results of past horse races. The machines would be allowed at locations where live or simulcast horse racing occurs, like Ada County's Les Bois Park.

Supporters of the measure say the income from the machines is necessary for live horse racing to exist in Idaho. Critics found them similar to slot machines, which are banned in this state.

The machines were legalized in 2013 by the Idaho Legislature, but later repealed in 2015. Les Bois closed the following year.

Gov. Butch Otter, who tried but failed to veto the 2015 repeal, welcomed Tuesday's news in a statement released by the initiative's backers. “Horse racing has a long and storied history in Idaho. It’s a big business and important to our state,” Otter said.

The measure will be on Idaho's general election ballot Nov. 6.

It is the first citizen initiative to qualify for the ballot since lawmakers added additional requirements to the process in 2013. The secretary of state is also examining right now whether a Medicaid expansion proposal has enough signatures for a public  vote, meaning Idahoans could weigh in on two statewide ballot measures this fall.