BOISE, Idaho — Idaho State Lottery officials are asking potential vendors to provide information on how they would offer Keno, simulated racing, fantasy sports and other illegal gambling games when they bid on a lucrative decade-long contract.
The state Lottery Commission could select the winner of the 10-year contract — which comes with two optional 5-year extensions — as early as November.
But some lawmakers are upset about the lottery’s request for information on games like Keno, which is specifically banned by the Idaho Constitution. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill says the request for information is inappropriate and feels like an attempt to make an end-run around the Legislature.
“They’re asking a provider to talk about the possibility of providing services that the Idaho Legislature has made very clear are illegal, and the Idaho Attorney General has made very clear are unconstitutional,” Hill said Thursday. “… I’m trying to be open minded about this, but I just can’t buy it”
Idaho State Lottery Director Jeff Anderson says the lottery doesn’t intend to offer any games that aren’t currently allowed. The information is simply to get an idea of what vendors are providing elsewhere, he said, and it won’t be part of the scoring process when the bids are evaluated over the next few weeks.
“It’s a very rapidly evolving industry,” Anderson said. “We’re certainly not looking to authorize Keno, but it’s insightful to know what their capabilities are across all jurisdictions where they operate.”
Still it’s hard to know what possibilities are out there without asking about them, Anderson said, pointing to the recent legalization and subsequent banning of instant horse racing terminals. The lottery has no plans to ask the Legislature to allow any currently prohibited games, but that could change in the future, he said.
“Eight years from now we’ll have a different governor and a different Legislature and maybe a different budget and a different economy,” Anderson said. “We’re not asking, ‘Hey, help us set up a Keno system,’ we’re just saying, ‘Can you do it?'”
Idaho’s relationship with gambling has been tumultuous in recent years. Lawmakers legalized instant racing terminals in 2013 as a way to boost the state’s horse racing industry, but decided to ban the terminals again in 2015 after deciding they were akin to slot machines. Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter attempted to veto the ban, but missed the veto deadline, so the ban took effect.
The governor said later that year that he wanted the instant racing terminals reinstated with tighter regulations, but the idea didn’t get traction in the 2016 Legislature.
Otter appoints the members of the Idaho Lottery Commission, and ultimately lottery officials answer to him.
Otter spokesman Max Pond said Thursday afternoon that the governor would not comment on the lottery’s decision to seek information about Keno, simulated racing and other illegal games.
Heather Keen, a spokeswoman for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which operates a casino in northern Idaho and opposes the instant racing terminals, said the tribe also has no comment at this time.