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Posts published in “Day: October 5, 2018”

Searching for the argument against

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When it comes to ballot issues, the voter calculus ought to involve these questions:

What, at core, is the argument supporting?

And what, at core, is the argument against?

Maybe there’s a third as well: Are any of the core arguments something that would be better decided by the courts than by the voters?

In the case of Proposition 1 (you can find it at https://sos.idaho.gov/elect/inits/2018/init04.html), the historical horse racing initiative, the sides seem to be asymmetrical. I’m having a hard time locating the compelling argument against.

First, a political note: In a time when practically everything seems to have split along party lines, this one has not. Prominent Republicans and Democrats can be found on both sides.

Prop 1 would allow the return of historical horse racing (or “instant racing”) terminals at places where live horse racing takes place. They were legalized in Idaho in 2013, but the Idaho Legislature banned them again in 2015 after being persuaded they were too much like slot machines. The central benefits to the state noted are an increase in jobs at horse tracks - the Les Bois in Ada County shut down after the 2015 ban - and some additional revenue (probably a modest amount) going to the state school fund. The benefits are small in scale, but they are definable.

So that’s the pro side. And the argument against?

The anti group Idaho United Against Prop 1 (their site is at http://idunitedagainstprop1.com/) said that “Proposition 1 is all about gambling machines, not horses. The text of Prop 1 will allow historical horse racing machines to be permitted anywhere that live racing or simulcast horse racing occurs – but machines are permitted to remain on 24/7 even if no racing is taking place. Casino-style gambling could be expanded to every corner of Idaho unless voters say NO this November.” That (along with the point that revenue to schools would not be large) is evidently the core of the argument.

The Idaho Racing Commission lists active horse racing locations in Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Rupert, Jerome, Malad, Burley and Blackfoot. But in 2018, the commission said, none operated more than six race days during the year. The initiative wouldn’t allow the instant machines in any place that didn’t run races at least eight days a year. Presumably, that would entail a revival of the Les Bois operation, or something similar. But it doesn’t sound like a prescription for an Idaho overrun with gambling machines.

A second argument is that these historical racing machines are a lot like slot machines, and that’s a question I have raised in this space in the past. But if true (and it’s at least debatable) that seems more like a question for the courts (where this doubtless will go if the initiative passes) than it does for the voters.

The other criticism is about how the finances are structured and how much schools actually would receive. There’s no real debate, though, that the schools and the state would receive something, more at least than they do now. And if the amount funneled off to the state does strike people as too small, the legislature could adjust it.

So what’s left is a modest but real argument in favor, and a vaporous argument in opposition.

Unless someone has something more concrete to offer ...