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Julyamsh Pow Wow Canceled Over Horse Racing Machines

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Julyamsh, billed as the northwest’s largest outdoor pow wow is canceled for 2015.

The pow wow has been held at Greyhound Park in Post Falls, Idaho, for the past 17 years, but was canceled due to a dispute between the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the park over the use of instant horse racing machines.

House Bill #220, now in the Idaho Code as 54-2512A, passed during the 2013 session of the Idaho legislature, made horse racing or instant horse racing machines legal. The bill was originally supported by the tribe, but those horse racing machines, now installed at Greyhound Park, are viewed by the tribe to be more like slot machines, which are illegal in Idaho, rather than the machines that were originally described in the bill. Proponents of the bill had described them as pari-mutuel betting, and a way to help save a dying horse racing industry. Pari-mutuel betting involves the player, or gambler, betting against other players on the same race at the same time, which these machines do not.

The tribe considers the machines installed in the park “illegal” slot machines, and also says those machines are competitive with their nearby casinos. More specifically, the tribe says that the machines are glorified slot machines because they have spinning wheels and blinking lights, and its only connection to horse racing is a small one-inch-by-two-inch window on the bottom of the screen that briefly shows a horse race. For these reasons, they’ve decided not to host the pow wow at the park.

The dispute escalated in December. Coeur d’Alene Chairman Chief Allan was quoted in the tribal newspaper saying, “It’s [the installed machines] a hoax that has consistently been found illegal in other states and these machines will continue to make a mockery out of the law until Idaho does something to stop it.”

At the end of January, the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to introduce a bill that would repeal the use of instant racing machines. A hearing is scheduled for February 9 to determine if the machines remain or not.

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Courtesy Julyamsh

Julyamsh pow wow dancers in the arena during the grand entry at the Greyhound Park in 2011.

Four Idaho tribes (Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Coeur d'Alene Tribe, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Fort Hall Reservation, and Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of Duck Valley Reservation) have sent a joint letter to the governor and attorney general asking that these gaming machines be outlawed. Another letter from 17 leaders of the City of Coeur d’Alene, including current and previous Coeur dAlene mayors, and former Lt. Gov. Jack Riggs, have also been sent demanding that the bill be repealed.

David Matheson, Coeur d’Alene, is the CEO of the Coeur d’Alene Casino, which puts on the pow wow. He told ICTMN, “My first thoughts are for the great many dancers, drummers, vendors, tribal members and local businesses in the region who have so warmly participated and supported Julyamsh. We don’t want to close the door to restoring Julyamsh in the future, but we will not be staging it this year.”

Douglas Okuniewicz, general manager of Greyhound Park, told ICTMN, “We’ve had a really good relationship with the tribe prior to the recent unpleasantness. We didn’t ask them to not come back, and I’ve enjoyed working with the tribe. They are a culturally significant part of this community.”

Three locations in Idaho now offer instant horse racing, but that number could decrease if the legality of these machines is overturned. Four states do allow this form of gaming machine: Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon, and Washington. Other states have rejected them.