Note: The following piece was first published on the front page of the August 29, 2011, issue of the Valley Times.
There are people in Ada County who are breaking the law, and government officials – including attorneys – are covering for them. The Alabama-based Greene Group operators of Les Bois Park are committing a felony every time they simulcast greyhound racing at that facility.
Dog racing is illegal in the State of Idaho because of the heinous treatment of the dogs allowed by the Greene Group at their track in Post Falls, where live greyhound racing began in the late 1980’s. In 1995, Spokesman-Review investigative reporter J. Todd Foster exposed the nightmarish conditions in which the dogs were kept, and the unthinkable treatment they received.
In response to the newspaper coverage, public outcry, and massive lobbying effort by greyhound advocates, in 1996 the Idaho legislature passed a law that banned all live dog racing, and placed significant restrictions on the simulcasting of dog racing (the broadcasting of live racing from other facilities) in the state.
In response to concerns about the potential loss of jobs in Post Falls, where the greyhound track was located, the simulcasting of dog racing was allowed to continue for a period of three years – but ONLY at tracks that had been licensed for live dog racing prior to January 1, 1996. The only track that meets that requirement is the Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls.
After Governor Phil Batt left office and Dirk Kempthorne took the helms of the state, the sunset clause was removed from the law. The simulcasting of dog racing was allowed to continue past the initial three-year period but, still, only at facilities that had been licensed for live dog racing prior to January 1, 1996.
Later, there was another change made to the law. This additional change allows the simulcasting of dog racing to take place at a substitute facility for one that was licensed for live dog racing prior to January 1, 1996, but only within the same county where the live dog racing took place. The only county in which I can find evidence that live dog racing was ever licensed was Kootenai, where the Alabama-based Greene Group’s Post Falls Greyhound Park is located.
At a recent Idaho Racing Commission meeting, members confirmed that there has never been a live dog racing license issued at Les Bois Park. The law is clear: every time Treasure Valley Racing’s Greene Group operators broadcast greyhound races at Ada County-owned Les Bois Park, they are committing a felony. They have been simulcasting greyhound racing every day they have been open since June 1, 2011, according to their online schedule. If every greyhound race meet that is broadcast constitutes only one felony, they will have committed 178 felonies since opening day. Yet, this activity continues, unimpeded.
Am I shocked? No. Surprised? No. Since 2006, the Greene Group, its associates, and affiliated PACs have donated more than $200,000 to Idaho politicians. They have put so much money in the pockets of Idaho politicians – from the governor on down to county commissioners – they appear to believe they are immune from prosecution. Maybe they are.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office, through the Chief of the Criminal Division Stephen Bywater, informed me that they would be issuing an opinion on the legality of simulcast dog racing in Idaho at facilities other than the one in Post Falls. After several weeks, the AG’s office issued an interpretation, but not an official opinion of the Idaho Attorney General. Instead, it is a memorandum authored by one of the two Deputy Attorneys General who represent the Idaho Racing Commission, Jenny Grunke. I believe the fact that the Attorney General himself has chosen not to stand behind this opinion speaks volumes about its lack of accuracy.
Much of the beginning of the memorandum quotes language from old Idaho Racing Commission annual reports, but without quotation marks or attribution. When I was in school, I was taught that this act constituted plagiarism, which in and of itself, raises questions about this attorney’s ethics. Nonetheless, the early part of the opinion appears to be accurate and factual.
Problems in the memorandum arise where attorney Grunke indicates that the law passed in 1996 outlawed only live dog racing in the State of Idaho. In fact, it eliminated both live and simulcast dog racing statewide, with the single exception of the facility in Post Falls.
Minutes from the January 22, 1996 House State Affairs Committee meeting, where the legislation to eliminate dog racing was initially proposed and considered, state, “The purpose of this legislation is to make dog racing illegal in the State of Idaho but to allow simulcast pari-mutual wagering to continue at any dog track which had live racing prior to January 1, 1996.” The same language is contained in the bill’s Statement of Purpose. The only facility that meets the necessary qualification is the one in Post Falls.
In 1999, legislation was passed removing the sunset clause that would have eliminated the simulcast of dog racing in Post Falls altogether. Deputy Attorney General Grunke claims that, “The removal of the sunset clause from Idaho Code § 54-2514A allowed the continued simulcasting of greyhound racing in Idaho.” Ms. Grunke is asserting that the removal of the sunset clause somehow made the simulcasting of dog racing legal throughout the State of Idaho, an assertion that can be proven false.
From records maintained at the Legislative Library, the Fiscal Statement from the 1999 legislation was obtained. It states, ”If this legislation fails to pass, the State of Idaho, and several of its political subdivisions, will realize a reduction in revenues beginning this next fiscal year. This reduction will amount to between $132,000.00 to $400,000.00 depending on whether the Coeur d’Alene Simulcast site remains in business.” (Emphasis added.)
In 2005, the legislation was changed again, to allow an alternate site, WITHIN THE SAME COUNTY. The Statement of Purpose from that legislation says, “The purpose of this act is to prevent the loss of monies paid annually to the public school income fund, Idaho Fair Circuit, Kootenai County, horse owners and breeders and the State Racing Commission by the Greyhond Park and Events Center at Post Falls in the event that property is converted to other uses by the present or subsequent owners.” (Emphasis added; the word “greyhound” is misspelled in the original document.)
Given any doubt about the meaning of the law, one can obtain clarification from these historic records. It is not in Ms. Grunke’s best interest to provide an accurate interpretation; however, since she represents the Idaho Racing Commission, whose members have allowed the simulcasting of dog racing to continue where it is not legal. It is her job to try to protect her clients and provide cover, but in this case, her legal “opinion” is not factual. Ms. Grunke has a serious conflict of interest in this situation so her creative interpretation of the law should be seen as just that.
We don’t even have to rely on historic records of the Idaho Legislature to realize that the simulcasting of dog racing is allowed at only one facility in the State of Idaho. We can look at documents from as recent as the 2011 legislative session, where House Bill 191 was passed with the enthusiastic support of Idaho’s horsemen. That bill contained language which is now memorialized in Idaho Code § 54-2512 (5) which states, “No more than one (1) simulcast and/or televised race facility per county shall be allowed. This includes the one (1) simulcast license authorized in section 54-2514A, Idaho Code.” (Emphasis added.)
There is no confusion as to the actual meaning of the Idaho Legislature’s words, clear intentions, and actions to eliminate live and simulcast dog racing from the State of Idaho, with only the one exception of the greyhound park in Post Falls. There is, however, significant consternation that professional staff members of the Idaho Attorney General’s office would make blatantly false claims in order to cover felonious behavior.
Here’s the law:
54-2514A. Dog racing illegal after the effective date of this act. On and after the effective date of this act, live dog races and pari-mutuel betting on such races or the training of dogs to compete in live dog races shall be illegal in the state of Idaho. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, the provisions of this section shall not be deemed to alter or affect simulcasts and simulcast pari-mutuel wagering at a facility that was licensed and authorized prior to January 1, 1996, to conduct live dog races and pari-mutuel wagering on them prior to the effective date of this act, and horse and dog race simulcasts and pari-mutuel wagering on such simulcasts may be conducted at that facility, or at an alternate facility in the same county and approved by the commission as if the facility were still licensed and under the same conditions and restrictions imposed by law on a licensee. Under no circumstances shall the provisions of this section or section 54-2512, Idaho Code, be used to grant more than one (1) license to conduct simulcast pari-mutuel wagering in any county. Any person participating or conducting a live dog race or pari-mutuel betting on such a live dog race or the training of dogs to compete in live dog races in violation of this section shall be guilty of a felony.