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Touting horse racing as a wholesome sport, the executive director of the Idaho Racing Commission said Monday the industry is rooted in family values compatible with those taught by the LDS Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes a general-election initiative that would permit pari-mutuel gambling in Utah. The church and other groups throughout the state have opposed the initiative on the grounds it will cost Utah taxpayers thousands of dollars a year to operate a racing commission and that the form of gambling leads to other types of gambling and erodes the moral fiber of the community and the family.The church and other anti-gambling groups have urged members to work to defeat the initiative. Also, representatives of the Humane Society have stated horses ridden in races are mis-treated.

"Both of them (horse racing and the LDS Church) have been good to me," said Duane Didericksen, who as director of the commission oversees regulation of the $8.2 million Idaho industry, which dates to 1964. "I hope you would consider it a sport rather than a game of chance."

Didericksen, who spoke at a morning press conference on a South Jordan horse farm, said he appeared at the behest of local pari-mutuel supporters. He said he came to Utah at his own expense, primarily to attend the LDS blessing of his new grandson. Didericksen is a member of the church.

Pat O'Rorke, an attorney and spokeswoman for Citizens to Put Utah First, a group favoring pari-mutuel gambling, introduced Didericksen in surroundings she called "a family horse operation."

She said racing is a "family-oriented business that creates jobs" and would prove a "clean, healthful industry for the state."

Horses, she said, "are an integral part of Utah's family values and pioneer heritage."

O'Rorke lambasted the initiative's opposition, charging that it is orchestrated by "rich elitists." She challenged the notion that pari-mutuel racing would cost taxpayers money and noted repeatedly that the ballot issue asks voters to decide whether it should be allowed on a county-by-county basis, rather than statewide.

Didericksen said Idaho's racing commission, which oversees a track in Boise and eight "fair circuit" venues, is financially self-sufficient and last year ran a $100,000 surplus.