Should off-track betting return to Expo Idaho? Ada Co. reviews proposal for Turf Club

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Horse racing might be permanently over at Expo Idaho, but the lights at the Turf Club could come back on for betting soon. 

Earlier this year, Ada County put out a request for proposals for businesses to lease the over 12,000 square-foot Turf Club. The two-story building, which overlooks the now abandoned track, once housed a bar and grill for visitors where they could gamble on horse races and socialize. It also housed slot machines for a short time before the Idaho legislature outlawed them in 2016. The club closed shortly thereafter.

The county only received two proposals to lease the building, only one of which the Ada County Commissioners described as “legitimate.” The county is now considering the proposal from Las Vegas-based company Midnight Racing, which also owns a horse racing track in Evanston, Wyoming named Wyoming Downs. The company, owned by Eric Nelson, also operates 15 off-track betting operations throughout Wyoming. 

The facility would be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week and have approximately six employees running 5-10 wagering terminals. 

If Midnight Racing starts leasing the Turf Club, it would allow visitors older than 18 to place bets on races broadcast from other tracks around the country, including high-profile contests like the Kentucky Derby. Ada County is currently taking feedback on the proposal through a survey available here

Where would all the money go?

Turf Club
File photo of the entrance to the Turf Club in Ada County, just west of Garden City. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

The gambling at this facility would use a system called pari-mutuel betting. 

This betting system pools all bets of a similar type into a pool where taxes and Midnight Racing’s cut would be removed, and then the remaining amount would be distributed to winners. According to documents obtained by BoiseDev through a public records request, Midnight Racing predicts the Turf Club would take in $4 million of bets per year, with $3.2 million going back to winning players. 

The remaining $800,000 would be distributed to several funds every year. This includes the Idaho State Racing Commission’s Small Track Fund, which allocates funds from betting to give a boost to Idaho horse racing tracks with less than $60,000 of cash flow per day. Proceeds would also go toward the Breed Fund, which provides financial assistance to breeders and owners of racing breeds of horses. Midnight Racing’s proposal estimates each of these funds would receive $20,000 annually from operations at the Turf Club. 

Another $8,000 would be distributed to the state’s public school system and the University of Idaho’s veterinary science program to support the work done at the school’s equine reproduction laboratory. On top of that, an additional $220,000 would go toward purses for winning jockeys, including the extra purse fees off-track betting facilities are required to pay. The Idaho State Racing Commission would take in another estimated $80,000. 

Roughly $40,000 of the purse money will go toward purses at the race track in Malad, Idaho at the Oneida County fairgrounds in Southeast Idaho. 

The remaining amount of the $800,000 Midnight Racing would take out of the betting pool would cover the estimated $200,000 it requires to cover the cost of the contracts with the live racing tracks to simulcast the races for visitors to bet on. Everything leftover would cover Midnight Racing’s costs and go toward its bottom line. 

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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