In a new campaign commercial, proponents of a measure to authorize betting machines at Idaho horse racetracks doubled down on their pitch that the measure is to “bring back horse racing,” rather than machines, and added an unsupported — and apparently false — claim that their opponents are underwritten by “out-of-state casino interests.”
Meanwhile, a new ad from the group opposing Proposition 1 hammers on demonstrably accurate claims about the initiative and Idaho’s previous experience with “historical horse racing” or “instant racing” gambling machines.
Late Monday, the initiative’s backers said they’d pulled their new ad.
The pro-Prop. 1 ad altered some audio in a snippet from a local news anchor, as first reported by KTVB-TV, altering the meaning of what’s said. Instead of saying his station “verifies those claims are accurate,” KTVB anchor Mark Johnson actually said, “Our Joe Parris verifies if those claims are accurate.”
Parris, in a follow-up “Verify” story, noted that the altered audio doesn’t match the movement of Johnson’s lips.
“Those are the kinds of things potentially voters may not like — that type of manipulation in an ad,” said Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler. “Voters are a little more savvy than that. They don’t want to be lied to.”
“In no way did we intend to mislead,” Todd Dvorak, spokesman for the Campaign to Save Idaho Horse Racing, said in a statement late Monday. “The original KTVB report did indeed verify that all our ad’s claims were true and that was the point we were making. If you listen to the story, the original audio is ambiguous; we heard the anchor say ‘that those claims are accurate.’ Due to this misunderstanding, the campaign withdrew the ad on Friday afternoon, though not all networks were able to pull it before the weekend.”
Here’s a look at the claims in both of the new ads.
Claim: The contention that “Prop 1 is about machines” is something “Idaho news media” calls “an exaggeration.”
The source cited is a Sept. 4 Idaho Press “Ad Watch” article that cites an exaggeration in the other side’s previous ad, but it’s in regard to the measure allowing the machines across Idaho “even if no racing is taking place.” Actually, only one location, the Greyhound Park in Post Falls, could have machines if no racing is taking place, under the initiative; all other sites would have to host at least eight days a year of horse racing.
Proposition 1 is, in fact, about machines. Horse racing already is legal in Idaho. Proponents want to authorize now-illegal betting machines at Idaho race tracks, so the lucrative machines can help subsidize Idaho’s horse racing industry and allow it to expand, rather than contract.
Claim: “Out-of-state casino interests” funding opposition to the initiative.
No source is cited for this claim. Natalie Podgorski, spokeswoman for “Idaho United Against Prop. 1,” said, “This is untrue. Currently, Idaho United Against Prop 1 has not received any money from out-of-state casino interests.” Former state Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, chairman of the anti-initiative campaign, said, “I don’t think there has been any money come in against this proposition and the campaign from out of state. If there has been, it’s minimal and it’s from individuals.” Coeur d’Alene Tribe Chairman Ernie Stensgar is the campaign’s treasurer, and his tribe operates a casino on its North Idaho reservation, but it operates only inside Idaho.
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Claim: “Local news media verifies those claims are accurate.”
This is the quote that includes the altered audio from KTVB anchor Mark Johnson. It follows claims that the initiative would “create hundreds of jobs, invest millions in classrooms, do it all with real accountability.” While KTVB found those claims accurate in its earlier “Verify” story, the Idaho Press, in an earlier “Ad Watch” story, disputed the “millions” claim for schools. Public schools would get one-half of 1 percent of the proceeds from the betting machines. When those machines were previously legal, the most they raised in a year was $519,678 for schools in 2015. The Idaho Press concluded that the “millions” claim was inaccurate; KTVB concluded it was accurate because “millions” could be raised over the course of multiple years at that rate.
Kettler said, “You can calculate different measures of money to schools, depending on how much time.”
“It’s clear that the Proposition 1 campaign is in a place where they are playing defense right now,” she said. “It’s tough to defend your position when the facts may not be as supportive for your position. Which may be part of why we are continuing to get this kind of doubling down.”
Claim: “Promoters take guaranteed profit, 18 times more than they’ve promised schools.”
According to the initiative, 90 percent of the proceeds from the betting machines would go to winning wagers, 9 percent to the licensees, and half of 1 percent to public schools. The remaining half of 1 percent would be split between the state Racing Commission and various horse and racing groups. Nine percent is, in fact, 18 times as much as one-half of 1 percent.
Claim: “Money promised to schools was taken away and misspent illegally.”
An Idaho state audit is cited for this claim, and it is accurate, though the matter is complex. The state Racing Commission collected money for a share of proceeds that was to go to horse breeders in 2014, but couldn’t determine before the end of the year which breeds should benefit from the machines’ proceeds. Under state law, any money left in the breeders account after the end of the calendar year goes to public schools. Instead, the commission held onto just over $72,000, then distributed it to quarter horse and thoroughbred breeders months later, once the machines’ manufacturer supplied the appropriate breakdown. Since then, according to a follow-up audit the state completed in June, the Racing Commission has been paying back the public school fund from the breeders’ account and has now paid back $70,258. It plans to pay back the remaining $2,081 “as the funds become available.” The state’s legislative auditor declared that audit finding “closed,” finding the matter is being satisfactorily addressed.
“Everything is accurate,” Andrus said. “Whether it was deliberate or not, I don’t know. I wouldn’t make an accusation that it was deliberate.”
Kettler said the pro-Proposition 1 ads appear to be continuing to try to deflect attention away from the betting machines themselves and onto the horse racing industry, to frame the debate as being about horses rather than gambling.
Les Bois Park near Boise, which has 200 of the gambling machines, shut down in 2015 after lawmakers repealed Idaho’s short-lived authorization for them, closing Idaho’s largest horse-racing venue. The park’s operators are funding the initiative campaign.
Kettler said, “Both pro and opposition ads can help affect the outcome of an initiative. So I can see both sides, as long as they have the funding, continuing to run a lot of ads up until the election.”
Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.