UPDATE: Idaho House Kills Bill That Would Outlaw Lottery's Electronic Touch-Tabs 

UPDATE: Feb. 7, 2017

The Idaho House killed a measure Tuesday morning that would have pulled the plug on the Idaho Lottery's electronic touch tab machines. The overwhelming vote to defeat House Bill 28 was 52-to-18. Proponents of the measure had argued that the machines were equivalent of slots, illegal in Idaho. But Lottery officials pushed back, saying the machines were simply an extension of the state's successful pull-tabs. The electronic version, nearly 240 of them statewide, have been installed at 140 businesses, nearly all of them taverns.

The 18 Idaho House Representatives in favor of pulling the plug on the machines, all Republicans, were Reps. Randy Armstrong, Van Burtenshaw, Brent Crane, Tom Dayley, Gayann DeMordaunt, Karey Hanks, Steven Harris, Wendy Horman, Tom Loertscher, Ron Mendive, Jason Monks, Ron Nate, Joe Palmer, Heather Scott, Paul Shepherd, Janet Trujillo, John VanderWoude, and Christy Zito. The remaining House Republicans and all members of the House Democratic delegation voted to kill the measure.

Tuesday morning's vote on the floor of the Idaho House came just hours after Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's comments to the Idaho Press Club, touting the success of the electronic touch-tabs.

"If it has been successful, if it's legal, if it meets all of the criteria that we had when we created it, then I see no reason to change it," the Governor told the Press Club.

ORIGINAL POST: Feb. 2, 2017

click to enlarge GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
Following a robust hour-and-a-half of testimony Feb. 2 before the Idaho House State Affairs Committee, lawmakers voted 10-5 to move House Bill 28—outlawing the Idaho Lottery's electronic touch tab machines—to the House floor. Committee members, however, opted to forward the measure without a recommendation on how the full body should vote.

Debate over the lottery machines, owned and operated by the Idaho Lottery, began nearly a year ago.

"Look, the Idaho Lottery is established and protected by the Constitution. We're not out to stop the lottery," Boise State Professor Jonathan Krutz told Boise Weekly in March 2016. "But we're trying to get those unconstitutional Touch Tab Machines out of the lottery. This is state-sponsored gambling on a slot machine."

Krutz, who sits on the state and national boards of the Stop Predatory Gambling organization, stood Thursday before the State Affairs Committee to make the same argument.

"You don't need to know too much about gambling to know that a machine that allows 1,200 bets per hour has to be a slot machine," he said. "The difference between these machines and paper pull tab machines is the difference between caffeine and cocaine."

Idaho Lottery Commission Director Jeff Anderson pushed back, insisting the machines, which were approved by the Idaho Legislature in 2011, were legit.

"They are not electronic simulations of casino slot machines, and we had an opinion from the attorney general's office indicating the same," Anderson told BW.

Currently, there are about 240 of the machines across the state at approximately 140 locations, many of them bars. Anderson said the decision was made to put them in 21-or-over establishments due to the lottery's requirement that a customer be at least 18 years old to play.

Jeremy Pisca, a Boise-based attorney representing Gameco, the manufacturer of Idaho Lottery's Touch Tab machines, told lawmakers on Thursday that claims customers play the machines at the rate of a transaction every three seconds were false.

"It's hyperbole. It's rhetoric," said Pisca. "The actual evidence is that people aren't playing them that way."

That's not true. In 2016, BW witnessed multiple customers playing the Touch Tab machines at Boise locations, all of them taverns, in three-second intervals or less. We also watched as customers continually pumped $20 bills into the machines, relying on nearby ATMs to continually feed the machines.

When the 90-minute Feb. 2 testimony was complete, State Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Loertscher (R-Iona), took note of his fellow lawmakers' reluctance to make a formal motion on the contentious debate.

"After all of the that, nobody appears to want to talk?" asked Loertscher.

Finally, Rep. Dustin Manwaring (R-Pocatello) moved that H.B. 28, which would pull the plug on the machines, be forwarded to the full House, but with no formal recommendation. The motion passed 10-5. The "no" votes came from the committee's two Democrats, Reps. Paulette Jordan (D-Plummer) and Eva Nye, of Pocatello—the latter substituting for Rep. Elaine Smith—and Republican Reps. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) and Priscilla Giddings (R-White Bird).

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