Thursday, October 1, 2015

After tumultuous year, Double Down closes doors

Double Down's owners announced Monday it was closing.
Double Down, 3078 Outlet Boulevard, has closed its doors, its owners saying they can't stay in business now that an Idaho Supreme Court ruling has made historical racing machines illegal.

Melissa Bernard, who ran the establishment with her husband, Jim, told East Idaho News they’d invested more than $3 million dollars since opening in 2014, the year the Idaho Legislature made historical racing machines legal. “Unfortunately, when historical racing was pulled, it was no longer feasible to remain in operation,” she said.

Historical racing machines came front and center earlier this year in the Idaho Legislature after drawing the ire of anti-gambling forces and Native American tribes, the latter regarding the machines to be competition to what they offer at their reservation casinos.

A historical racing machine works like this: When a player makes a wager, a race is randomly selected from a video library of over 60,000 previous races. Identifying information such as the location and date of the race, and the names of the horses and jockeys, is not shown.

The player is able to view a "Skill Graph" chart from the Daily Racing Form, showing information such as jockeys' and trainers' winning percentages, and based on this handicapping information the player picks the projected top three runners in order of finish. Many players use a "handi helper" feature, which allows the machine to automatically make the selections.

While early versions of the terminals looked like self-serve wagering terminals, over time some began to mimic slot machines, with symbols on spinning reels showing the results of the player's wager and the video of the actual race consigned to a 2-inch square in the corner of the screen.

Once the similarity to slot machines became common knowledge, legislators began pushing for a repeal of 2014's House Bill 220, which had made the machines legal.  Senate Bill 1011 repealed the Legislature's prior approval of the devices, passing the House by a 49-21 vote and the Senate 25-9.

Otter vetoed the bill, and the Senate’s 19-16 subsequent vote to override him fell five votes short. While he then called for a moratorium on any new instant racing machines, Senate leaders took more direct action, entering statements into the official record that they had failed to receive the veto within the five days required by law.

In a unanimous decision Sept. 10, the Supreme Court ruled that Otter had essentially botched the veto. Otter told the Idaho Statesman he was “disappointed” in the ruling and maintained that his actions were legal. “While I disagree with (the) ruling, I will continue working toward a solution that ensures a viable live horse racing industry in Idaho,” he said.

All this will be too late for Double Down and its 70 employees. Any thoughts?