Gehrke: A horse-racing aficionado in the Senate wants Utah to legalize playing the ponies

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Tribune staff portraits. Robert Gehrke.

You want to bet on a long shot? Here’s one for you: Sen. David Hinkins is sponsoring a bill to legalize wagering on horse races.

Hinkins, who himself owns race horses, including First Down Illusion, winner of a $1 million prize in 2010, says the state prohibition on playing the ponies drives horse breeders, trainers and owners out of state. His own stallion, for example, is stabled in Wyoming. He has other horses in Louisiana and New Mexico.

His bill, SB181, would let counties vote to let people bet on horse racing. If they vote for it, they would get to collect a percentage of the money wagered.

Utah’s Constitution prohibits “games of chance,” but the Utah Supreme Court ruled (back in 1926) that ban applies to things like lotteries, not necessarily to horse racing.

“We’ve got a lot of the horse breeders who are leaving,” Hinkins said Tuesday. With all the secondary businesses that come with breeding — veterinary, feed suppliers, farriers, and so on — he thinks it could bring $5 million or more to counties that opt to allow racing.

But here’s why Hinkins’ bill might not make it out of the gate: In 1992, horse-racing advocates tried to legalize parimutuel betting through a ballot initiative that met opposition from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, among other groups, and was defeated, 60 percent to 40 percent.

Hinkins says Gov. Gary Herbert has concerns about the bill and views betting on horses to be gambling, which he opposes. The senator sees it as “more like playing the stock market.”

“It’s not a game of chance as much,” Hinkins said. “It’s actually an educated [wager].”

I don’t know much about horse racing, but here’s a tip: This one is probably headed for the legislative glue factory.

Illuminati license plate?

If you know anything about Rep. Ken Ivory, it’s probably that he is the ultimate Founding Fathers fanboy. And it so happens that many of the Founding Fathers were members of the Freemasons.

So it kind of makes sense that Ivory would sponsor HB364, creating a new special license plate for Freemasons.

Technically the bill doesn’t specifically say masons. It would be for individuals who support “a fraternal, initiatic order for those sharing moral and metaphysical ideals, and designed to teach ethical and philosophical matters of brotherly love, relief, and truth.” (Those are Freemasons.)

Because of their intense secrecy and fraternal bonds, Freemasons have historically been looked on with suspicion, even hostility. In popular culture, they are often viewed as the same as the Illuminati, secretly running the world behind the scenes.

But if you look at your money or pretty much any of the symbols of our early government you’ll see the Freemason iconography. Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from the masons for Latter-day Saint rituals, too.

Several states — Nevada, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Michigan and others — already offer a masonic license plate. Utah has almost 50 special license plates for everything from Pearl Harbor survivors to supporting kids with cancer to Utah Jazz fan.

Holy War or hate crime?

After years of frustration, Sen. Daniel Thatcher’s hate crimes bill will get a committee hearing Thursday. To get to this point, Thatcher agreed to a handful of changes, adding protected classes (some of them already covered) to his proposal.

The latest version, released Tuesday, includes language that would let a judge impose additional time if a crime is committed with the intent of terrorizing a group based on “matriculation,” meaning where they went to school.

Senate President Stuart Adams had referenced his desire to make sure that Utah fans don’t target Brigham Young fans (or vice versa). I thought he was joking, but I guess not. Maybe this will finally keep Utah from beating the heck out of on BYU in football every year.

The bill also adds protections for people based on age, familial status, homelessness, marital status, military service, and career as first responders or law enforcement officers.

Closing doors

While Senate Republicans have closed every caucus meeting for years, their House counterparts have often complained they didn’t get any credit for keeping most of their meetings open.

The open caucuses were useful because, with Republicans holding a supermajority of the Legislature, that was where a lot of the actual discussion of the big issues took place.

It looks like, with the new leadership in the House, that may be changing. (I hope not).

This year, they have taken an unsettling step toward closing more caucuses. So far they have had six meetings and portions of four have been closed to discuss legislation that rolled back Medicaid expansion, once to discuss legal issues related to whether lawmakers can block people on social media, and twice for tax reform talk.

That is a lot this early in the session. Generally, the caucuses don’t start to close until the end, when lawmakers start to tackle the thorny issues. Hopefully this has been an anomaly, and not a move toward less transparency.