Gambling venture files legal challenge against OR commission

December 30, 2021 GMT

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Backers of a Southern Oregon gaming and entertainment venue have filed a legal petition against the Oregon Racing Commission over purported licensing delays for gambling machines.

The petition, filed in Josephine County Circuit Court, suggests the delays may be driven by tribal concerns over the gambling operation, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

TMB Racing, which is backed by Dutch Bros. Coffee co-founder and CEO Travis Boersma, wants to install 225 “Historical Horse Racing” terminals similar to slot machines at the Grants Pass facility called The Flying Lark.

The new entertainment venue boasts that it will create over 150 jobs and is near the Grants Pass Downs racetrack, which is also owned and operated by Boersma.

The Oregon Racing Commission’s delay “may be a result of waiting for the Oregon Department of Justice to advise on a handful of legal claims that some Oregon tribes have advanced about HHR wagering,” the petition says.

An Oregon Department of Justice spokeswoman said the agency received the lawsuit, and is reviewing it. Oregon Racing Commission leaders did not return a request for comment.

In his petition, Boersma says the machines allow players to bet against one another, rather than an operator, and points to the use of 150 such terminals at Portland Meadows between 2015 and 2019. The petition says the Oregon Racing Commission oversaw those terminals without issue.

The Oregon tribes that operate casinos argue that since then, terminal technology has advanced, and the sheer number of the machines proposed in Grants Pass would effectively create a new private casino.

In 2010, Oregon voters upheld a ban on private casinos. State law also requires agencies to “make a reasonable effort to cooperate with tribes in the development and implementation of programs of the state agency that affect tribes.”

In October, leaders for six of the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon wrote to Gov. Kate Brown expressing concerns about HHR terminals and The Flying Lark project.

“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,” the tribal leaders wrote. “If something isn’t done, HHRs will arrive in Oregon without any serious discussion of their impacts on the state, on tribes, and the citizens of both.”

The governor then wrote to the Oregon Racing Commission’s leaders saying although it’s not her role to weigh in on agency licensing decisions it is her expectation that the Oregon Racing Commission will satisfy its statutory obligation to meaningfully consult with tribal governments.

“That obligation includes consultation before any significant change to gaming activity that may affect the Tribes,” Brown wrote.

Additionally, in October, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan announced an audit of the Oregon Racing Commission that’s still being conducted. The audit was done at the request of the tribes who asked Fagan’s office to determine if the racing commission “has the proper regulatory framework, statutory authority, security controls, and staff expertise.”

“Through the entire process, I’ve made it a priority to meet and work with Oregon’s tribal leaders,” Boersma said in a statement. “It’s my hope that tribal leaders will once again come back to the table to identify ways in which we can work together.”

Tribes have requested Oregon lawmakers temporarily halt any expansion of state or private gambling until there’s a larger look at the role and future of gaming in the state.