BOISE - Horse racing has been a topic of conversation at the Statehouse over the last five years. In 2013, lawmakers approved the use of instant horse racing machines. Two years later, lawmakers banned the machines - deeming them too similar to slot machines.
There have been efforts to bring the machines back over the years; the latest to let voters decide their fate. Save Idaho Horse Racing has put together a ballot initiative seeking to legalize lucrative betting machines in Idaho.
Backers of the initiative say a political action committee, the North Idaho Voter Project, has hired operatives to deter voters from signing the petition.
"People come and push them around and give them a bad time and also mistreat the voters that they're trying to get signed the petitions," said Bruce Newcomb, chairman of Save Idaho Horse Racing.
Newcomb said Wednesday that signature blockers with the North Idaho Voter Project, which is funded by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, have been following his campaign staff and have become verbally abusive at times.
"There's people that pick them up as they leave and follow them and harass them once they get there and some have even come into the headquarters and applied to be signature gatherers when in fact they're just doing intelligence gathering and thwarting the process," said Newcomb.
Newcomb added he hasn't personally seen this happen, but says signature gatherers meet at the campaign office every morning.
Officials with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe say they have hired employees to counter claims surrounding a proposed ballot initiative, but deny accusations their operatives are intimidating voters.
"They're simply not true," said Natalie Podgorski, who's representing the North Idaho Voter Project.
Podgorski tells KTVB the group is committed to bringing truth and transparency to Idahoans and registered voters.
"What we're really committed to is bringing truth to Idahoans and making sure that Idahoans and registered voters have all of the facts before they sign a petition. So we're just trying to make sure people understand what the ballot initiative is really about," said Podgorski.
Podgorski added they keep their distance from members of Save Idaho Horse Racing, but are there to help clear up and misconception and misinformation regarding the initiative.
"Some of these are flat out lies and at best some of them are half-truths. What this legislation really does, it's all about historical horse racing machines. It's not actually about horse racing. It would legalize and allow these machines to be installed anywhere in the state that would allow eight days of live horse racing," said Podgorski.
Tribes across the state have previously come out against the betting terminals because they argue that the machines do not use the legal wagering allowed under Idaho law.
Horse racing is legal in Idaho. However, Newcomb says without the instant horse racing machines, they can't generate a large enough purse to make it economically viable.
Save Idaho Horse Racing must gather more than 56,000 signatures by the end of April.