Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Oaklawn's invention, Instant Racing, runs into legal trouble in Idaho

Posted By on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 11:07 AM

click to enlarge RACING? Or is it just plain old gambling? Oaklawn's invention continues to prompt debate.
  • RACING? Or is it just plain old gambling? Oaklawn's invention continues to prompt debate.
Remember Instant Racing? It was an Oaklawn Park invention unveiled in 2000 to bring slot machine-style gambling to the racetrack. The machines were sold as legal parimutuel wagering — pooled bets on previously run horse races. But they were the camel's nose into the tent that produced casino gambling at Oaklawn and Southland Park.

The Instant Racing machines had quick play options. Nobody was studying past performance charts. They were cranking the machine as often as possible in hopes of a jackpot. The games become more inventive, but still were styled as pari-mutuel gambling.

Nobody sued over this artful sidestep of Arkansas's constitutional prohibition of games of chance. And that paved the way in 2005 for legislatively approved  "electronic games of skill." No longer was the pari-mutuel ruse necessary. Now, it was argued  that "skill" was an element in garden variety slot machines. The main skill is understanding that your odds, though still in favor of the house, are marginally better if you increase your bet. And, again, Oaklawn and Southland prevailed with their legal trickery. As noted yesterday, casino gambling now drives profits at both tracks. Dog racing, indeed, is all but dead. Nobody ever sued to claim these gambling games were gambling and the duopoly casinos continue to expand. Skill was certainly involved.

Other states have not always been as receptive.

Here's a news story about an Idaho probe, now in progress, into the legality of "slot-like machines known as instant horse racing terminals, which are slowly gaining popularity across the state." The complaint is that machines at a Greyhound Park are illegal slot machines, not state-approved pari-mutuel betting terminals.

Idaho got the machines in 2013 on the same argument Oaklawn made in 2000. Machines were needed to produce profits to shore up live racing. The routine was the same here as described in Idaho.

The instant horse racing machines resemble slot machines, with animations and music. Bettors are wagering on past races, but the horse names are unknown before they place their bets. The machines only show the last few seconds of the race, and payouts are instant. Racing officials say gamblers aren’t betting against the house, but a pool of other gamblers.

Instant racing is also in use in Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and Wyoming, though not without some speed bumps. The Wyoming Supreme Court took a common-sense view in 2003. It said instant racing was illegal gambling. "We are dealing with a slot machine that attempts to mimic traditional pari-mutuel wagering. Although it may be a good try, we are not so easily beguiled."

Oregon also outlawed instant racing that year, but it and Wyoming later reinstated it. The gambling operators always find a way. See Arkansas. Opponents have periodically raised a ruckus, including in Kentucky, when tracks added the machine gambling to their offerings.

There's a substantial Arkansas angle to the continuing controversy over Instant Racing. It was conceived by Oaklawn General Manager Eric Jackson and it  remains a commercial venture of a partnership of AmTote and Oaklawn Park. Lots of history here. And lots of money. I don't visit the Oaklawn slot parlor. Is Instant Racing still among the offerings? It's not listed on the games promoted on the Oaklawn website. But Wheel of Fortune is. Don't forget to take your skill set and some quarters.

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