GRANTS PASS, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Justice has released an opinion that the planned gambling machines in an entertainment center next to the Grants Pass Downs horse racing track amount to a casino that would violate the Oregon Constitution.
The Justice Department ruled Friday that the machines are games of chance and “do not afford players any meaningful opportunity to exercise skills” The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
Dutch Bros Coffee co-founder Travis Boersma said previously he has spent $50 million refurbishing the race track in southern Oregon and Flying Lark entertainment center next door. The facility is centered around 225 gambling machines.
“I remain committed to saving horse racing in Oregon, providing family wage jobs in southern Oregon and working closely with tribal leaders to ensure all Oregonians benefit from the opening of The Flying Lark," Boersma said in a written statement.
The Oregon Racing Commission a state agency, will make the final decision on Boersma’s bid.
“I believe the Oregon Racing Commission is acting in good faith and the process will ultimately reveal The Flying Lark to be a legal venture," Boersma added.
Until this fall, approval seemed likely by the commission, which has not hidden its enthusiasm for the new facility. It has been an agency without a portfolio since the Portland Meadows racing track shuttered in 2018.
But opponents of the plan – including most tribes in Oregon – organized and lobbied against it. Gov. Kate Brown directed the racing commission to hold off on approving Boersma’s plan until it got a legal opinion from the Justice Department.
Anthony Broadman, an attorney for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, said the opinion was an important validation for the tribes.
“What we saw today was the DOJ finally agreeing with what the tribes have been saying for 10 years,” he said. “We’ve seen the rapid proliferation of state-sanctioned gambling without a corresponding increase in the state’s capacity to oversee it.”
The tribes have sought to protect their franchise as operators of the only full-service casinos in the state. The state lottery and the advent of digital gaming on the internet have eroded that franchise. The Flying Lark posed a new threat – what they viewed as a privately owned and operated casino on non-tribal land.
Rep. Marty Wilde, a Democrat from Eugene, said the language of the opinion left room for compromise. If the machines are tweaked to be more based on knowledge and skill they could qualify as allowable betting, he said.