Ada County Commissioners have decided to clear the track for the installation of as many as 200 "historical racing" gambling terminals at Les Bois Park, where gamblers will be able to wager on prior races (where the outcome is presumably unknown to the gambler).
More than a few people scratched their heads at the Idaho Statehouse this past March when lawmakers took up House Bill 220, which allows Idaho race tracks to offer gaming machines that permit betting on a massive database of thousand of previous races. Ultimately, the Legislature approved the measure and it was signed into law by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter.
Treasure Valley Racing, which operates Les Bois Park in Garden City, is anxious to install the machines, saying they would hemorrhage money, and possibly shut down the live racing operations, if they weren't able to pursue the generous revenues expected from historical racing machines.
But Garden City officials balked at the idea, saying the machines were too much like one-armed bandits, creating a casino-like setting.
Ada County Commissioners—who are the landlords of Les Bois Park—held an informational meeting on Nov. 26 to allow opponents and supporters of the machines to air their differences.
And on Dec. 19, county commissioners voted unanimously to approve the new machines at Les Bois, saying that the move would ultimately create more jobs at the facility. Treasure Valley Racing officials said they hoped to have the machines installed by spring, in time for the 2014 live racing season.
Why would anyone bet on a horse race that has already been run?
That was the often-repeated question that echoed through the halls of the Idaho Statehouse this past March as the Legislature took up House Bill 220, which allows Idaho race tracks to offer gaming machines that permit betting on a massive database of thousand of previous races. Ultimately, the Legislature approved the measure and it was signed into law by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. Proponents said the new form of wagering would ultimately benefit Idaho's live horse racing industry.
That cleared the track for Treasure Valley Racing to install the "instant horse racing machines" at Les Boise Park in Garden City, or so they had thought.
Months after the Idaho Legislature voted overwhelmingly to approve "historic" horse race wagering and it was signed into law by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, Garden City officials balked at the idea, saying the machines were too much like one-armed bandits, creating a casino-like setting.
In a Nov. 22 letter to Garden City Mayor John Evans and his fellow Garden City Council members, Ada County commissioners said they were disappointed that Evans and his colleagues didn't attend a Nov. 20 meeting with representatives from Treasure Valley Racing and Expo Idaho in order to answer Garden City's concerns.
Ada County commissioners—who are the landlords of Les Bois Park—have scheduled an information meeting for this Tuesday, Nov. 26, to allow opponents and supporters of the machines to air their differences. The meeting, which had been scheduled well in advance of Garden City's comments on the matter,is open to the public, is set for 6 p.m. in the Ada County Courthouse Commissioners Public Hearing Room at 200 W. Front St. in Boise.
An ultimate decision on the matter is expected from Ada County Commissioners before year's end.
The gates open at 4:00 this afternoon and post-time for the first race of Les Bois Park's 2013 horse racing season is set for 5:30 p.m.
"If this wasn't special to me, I wouldn't be here,"Les Bois General Manager Duayne Didericksen said. "The owners just want to break even, and pour the profits back into the business. They want to create jobs and save a good industry."
Eight races are scheduled over three hours this evening, including a Premier Quarterhorse Stakes slated for the final race of the evening.
Officials at Les Bois say a younger breed of jockeys will be seen at the track this season.
"New jockeys are always important. They're like getting a new ball player," said Didericksen, who added that fans would see some new faces from Canada and Mexico, as well.
This season, which runs through mid August, will include Nikeela Black aboard a few dozen mounts.
"If you're not passionate about it, it will break your heart," she said.
You can read Boise Weekly's conversation with Black, a champion jockey who also happens to be a Boise attorney, in the current issue of Boise Weekly.
The beginning of the Western Idaho Fair also means the end of the 2012 season at Les Bois Park, the first full horse racing season in four years and the first under new, all local ownership.
"It's a sure bet," Les Bois General Manager Kerry Lawson told BW in April as he was settling in to his new position. "Everybody needs to know that we're going to be here a long time, and we're going to supply a great product."
The 2012 36-day race season racked up a $2.5 million parimutuel handle, paying out an average of nearly $56,000 per race day.
The spring-summer season was most popular on Wednesday nights, with an average attendance of approximately 3,800.
Well before the thoroughbreds were at the gate for Wednesday evening's season-opening first race at Les Bois Race Track, fans were already lining up along the track's fence, just a few inches from the freshly turned dirt. More than 4,500 fans attended the newly reopened Les Bois Park for the first full season of live racing since 2008.
The diverse crowd included children, parents and singles, some wearing cowboy boots and hats, others' attire more fitting an office environment. Thousands sat in the stands eating hamburgers and drinking beer, while many more gravitated between the chain-link track fence and the paddock.
Real estate along the paddock fence was limited, with eager bettors clutching race programs, jockeying to catch a glimpse of the horses and riders.
Crews were out before sunrise this morning, preparing for today's opening of the 2012 live horse racing season at Les Bois Park. Following an abbreviated, but successful 15-day season in 2011, local owners are gearing up for a full 36-day season running through Wednesday, Aug. 11. This year makes the first full live racing season at Les Bois since 2008.
"We'll have all of our 820 stalls filled," Les Bois general manager Kerry Lawson told BW. "We had over 1,300 apply to come here this season."
Lawson said his track crew is usually out by 4 a.m. and horses and trainers are out on the track as early as 6 a.m..
Post time is 5:30 p.m. and gates open one hour prior.
"Everybody needs to know that we're going to be here for a long time, and we're going to supply a great product," said Lawson. "We're pretty excited."
As expected, Treasure Valley Racing announced today that its 2012 live horse racing season will be extended. The calendar will include 36 days of thoroughbred racing, beginning on Wednesday, May 2, 2012, and running through Saturday, Aug. 11, 2012. Racing will open in time to run concurrently with the Kentucky Derby and will be held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with select live races for holidays and special stakes races on Fridays and Sundays.
"We are deeply committed to returning horse racing to its former prominence and proud of the recent success of the 15-day meeting this past summer," said Jim Grigsby, a representative of Les Bois Park Racing. "Horse racing has a bright future in Idaho."
Following an abbreviated, but by all accounts successful, season at Les Bois Park, local investors have bought out their Alabama-based partners to take over 100 percent of Treasure Valley Racing. The purchase is expected to be complete Tuesday, Nov. 15.
This year's 15-day season was the first in three years, and produced better-than-expected attendance and 150 seasonal jobs. TVR's lease agreement with Ada County guarantees live races at the Garden City track for the next five years. Organizers said they expect at least 30 race days for 2012.
"Although we faced numerous challenges to reopen the track in time for a live race meet this past July, the unwavering commitment of all involved allowed us to make that a successful reality," said Scott Phelps, a representative of the former partners Alabama-Idaho, Inc. "The community is fortunate to have such strong local support of horse racing."
Today is the day that Idaho horse racing enthusiasts have been looking forward to for three years: the return of thoroughbred racing to Les Bois Park.
The doors open this afternoon at 4:40, and the first post time is set for 5:30 at Les Bois, a part of the Expo Idaho fairgrounds in Garden City. Admission is $2. A special racing card is also set for Monday, July 4. Then, an abbreviated season of racing begins with a full card scheduled for Wednesdays and Saturdays through mid-August.
Approximately 150 employees have been hired by Les Bois' new lease holder, Treasure Valley Racing, to operate live and simulcast racing. TVR's lease agreement guarantees live races for the next five years.