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Horse Racing Profits to Help Rural Communities

We, the owners of Treasure Valley Racing, each have our own unique reasons for why we love horse racing. The common thread is a passion for our heritage and traditions, and the people throughout Idaho who sustain these traditions, and it is this passion that has fueled our efforts these last few years.

Our fight to revive the horse racing industry has really become an effort to support and sustain the many families in Idaho whose livelihoods are tied to horses and racing—a total economic benefit of least $50 million, according to a Boise State University study. That’s our motivation, plain and simple, and this week our group put its money where its mouth is by committing 100 percent — every single dime — of profits from our racing operations to a foundation that will support charitable causes throughout the state.

We’re excited about the profound impacts this foundation will have on education, youth programs, and access to health care and social services in communities throughout our state, thanks to horse racing. But before we share those exciting details, we think it’s important to recount some recent history to understand how we got here.

It’s no secret that last February we launched the campaign to Save Idaho Horse Racing, also known as Proposition One. We did so when it became clear that lawmakers—who had previously authorized historical horse racing terminals at race tracks and then repealed that authorization less than two years later—would not reconsider the destabilizing effects their actions had on an iconic Idaho industry and rural communities throughout the state.

We were forced to shut down our operations at Les Bois Park, which subsequently impacted horse racing across the state. There are still a handful of live meets around Idaho throughout the year, but the industry overall is a shadow of its former self, and hundreds of jobs have been lost.

Thousands of people have contacted us since 2015, asking what they can do to bring back and revitalize this unique form of entertainment, exciting sport, and robust economic engine. Looking at thriving horse racing industries in other states, and looking at our experience when we offered historical horse racing in Idaho, we know this model works. The revenue from historical horse racing helps to boost purses, which attracts more horses and jockeys, more competitive races, more fans, and more economic activity overall.

With the legislative logjam, we thought about what other options we had at our disposal. And then we remembered what the Chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe said at a legislative committee meeting in 2017: If someone has an issue with these laws, they can take it to the people, just like the Legislature had advised the tribes to do 20 years ago.

Indeed, the people of Idaho voted in support of tribal gaming machines, passing their ballot initiative in 2002. And so, we decided to take the Chairman’s advice, drafted Proposition 1, and gathered tens of thousands of signatures from across the state in less than three months to place it on the ballot.

Unlike our opposition, whose financial backers have been kept under wraps and may include out-of-state casino interests, we’ve made it clear from the get-go that we are the sole funders of this Save Idaho Horse Racing campaign. And we’ve emphasized the many educational, cultural, and economic benefits that horse racing and the industry’s revenues provide to Idahoans. Historical horse racing is the mechanism that enables a revitalized horse racing industry and thereby delivers those associated benefits.

Thus, it was with great pride and excitement that we launched the Treasure Valley Foundation for Rural Idaho—an idea that we’ve been working on for almost a year now. The articles of incorporation for this foundation were filed earlier this month with the Idaho Secretary of State. We also announced that we are committing an initial donation of $100,000 to launch this foundation.

We have a clear vision for how we intend to put to philanthropic use the resources generated by a renewed horse racing industry. The foundation monies will be used to provide financial assistance or scholarships for undergraduate studies at Idaho colleges and universities, with a preference for students interested in pursuing degrees in agriculture, animal science or equine studies; support 4H programs, FFA, horse and other rural economic and education programs; support nonprofits that serve rural communities in Idaho in the areas of education, access to healthcare and social services, and the conservation of rural traditions; and contribute financially to rural families in need of healthcare services—with a preference for those injured in agriculture-related and equine accidents.

Some of these initial funds that we’ve committed will go to help Nikeela Black and her family. Nikeela is a top Idaho jockey who was involved in a horse racing accident in Blackfoot a little over a month ago. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family as she undergoes her recovery efforts.

We understand that some may have been skeptical about our motivations, which is why we hope this creation of a foundation lays bare our true desires and intent. At the risk of sounding immodest, we have all enjoyed a certain degree of success in our professional lives and know a thing or two about creating jobs and growing prosperity.

And based on more than a century of collective experience building businesses, we can all safely say that if we were looking to make more money, there are better, easier, and more practical ways than operating a racing track. But sometimes people pursue projects based on their passions—what some might refer to as a labor of love. That’s what horse racing is for us.

One of the most gratifying things that happens at horse racing meets is seeing urban and rural Idahoans interacting and connecting at the track. It seems that more and more these days, folks in Idaho’s more urban areas don’t have as many opportunities to mingle with folks in rural communities or witness horses or our rural traditions up close. Horse racing brings people from all walks of life together in a fun, festive, and family-friendly environment.

We understand that horse racing may not be for everyone. But for some Idahoans, particularly in rural Idaho communities, it’s their life’s work.

By creating this foundation, we’ve put to rest the notion that we’re somehow in this for the money. Any and all money our racing operation earns after expenses at the end of the day will be given away to support, amongst other beneficiaries, the very families and communities that make horse racing possible.

This is in addition to specific language in the proposition that requires a portion of all historical horse racing revenues be directed to the Public School Income Fund. We ask voters to vote yes on Proposition 1, so that hundreds of jobs can return to Idaho, money can be generated for classrooms and scholarships, and Idahoans can once again fully enjoy the cultural and economic benefits of an iconic tradition.

Harry S. Bettis, Robert Rebholtz, Jr., John Sheldon, Larry Williams, and Linda Yanke are the owners of Treasure Valley Racing and the sole funders of Proposition 1: the campaign to Save Idaho Horse Racing.

Source: Idaho State Journal