An Oregon racetrack owned by Dutch Bros coffee billionaire Travis Boersma will lay off 226 workers next month. That’s unless the state racing commission greenlights its application for 225 historical horse-racing machines.
The ultimatum, first reported by Willamette Week, comes as an alliance of nine Oregon tribal operators continues to pressurize the legislature to put gambling expansion on hold. These include the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, which operates the Seven Feathers Casino Resort, 40 miles north of Grants Pass.
The tribes are calling for a comprehensive review of the state’s gambling landscape, noting it has been a quarter-century since the last one.
They hold exclusivity on slots and casino gaming under the terms of their compacts with the state. But they feel this right is being threatened by the growth of historical horse-racing machines, as well as mobile betting, which has been available via the Oregon Lottery since 2019.
A bill that would have established a task force to examine the future of gambling in the state stalled in the legislature last year.
Flying Lark on Hold
Following the demise of Portland Meadows in 2019, Grants Pass is now the only commercial racetrack left in Oregon.
Boersma is itching to open the Flying Lark, a dining, drinking, and gambling establishment adjacent to the track that he claims will transform Grants Pass into an “epicenter of global racing.”
But first, he needs those gambling machines.
In a notice to state authorities seen by Willamette Week, the track said it had expected a decision last month from the racing commission. But it recently learned it first needs sign-off from the Oregon Department of Justice, which is holding up the process.
We’ve dotted every ‘i,’ we’ve crossed every ‘t’ — we’ve had numerous conversations with tribe, with state and political figures, soup-to-nuts, top-to-bottom over the course of the last three years and there has not once been the mention, the idea that we would not be able to open our doors,” Boersma told local ABC affiliate KDRV.
“I had a conversation with [employees] last week and I had to let them know what cause and effect are here, and it’s catastrophic for people and their lives,” he added.
Tech Outpacing Regulation
Historical horse racing machines allow players to bet on replays of past races with the identities of the races obscured. They have been legal in Oregon since 2012, but only at racetracks. That’s because they broadly use the pari-mutuel betting system permitted at racetracks.
The tribes dispute this. In a letter last October to the state’s Democratic governor, Kate Brown, they complained the newest generation of machines had “evolved beyond the pari-mutuel system to the point where they are “nothing other than slot machines, from a player perspective.”
“The state’s regulatory framework has not evolved to reflect new technology or its impacts on the public,” the tribes wrote. “We are at a critical moment where the state is about to approve the largest expansion of state-regulated gambling in decades without public or legislative input.”
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