Dutch Bros co-founder Travis Boersma is about to open a new hospitality center next to Grants Pass Downs horse racing track. But Native American tribes operating casinos on tribal lands oppose the project, saying it represents illegal competition.
Boersma wants to place more than 200 machines with which customers can bet on horse races that have already taken place elsewhere. Known as Historical Horse Racing Machines, they are used on tracks across the country, but not in Oregon since Portland Meadows closed five years ago.
State law allows pari-mutuel betting — where participants bet against each other, not the house — on horse racing tracks. Boersma says that the machines he wants to install are therefore exempt from the ban on casino gambling on reservations. The tribes claim that the machines are truly glorified slot machines and will take money from their casinos, which pay for services to tribesmen.
The Oregon Lottery operates video poker machines at outlets across the state, but they are not considered casinos either.
Grants Pass Downs is the only remaining commercial horse racing track in the state. Boersma is trying to breathe new life into the track and says he needs the income from HHR machines to make that financially feasible.
He also says he has offered to work with the tribes to ensure their concerns are allayed.
The Seven Feathers tribal casino in Canyonville, 75 miles from Grants Pass, offers a complete casino experience, including craps, blackjack and other table games, as well as slot machines. It includes a hotel and live entertainment venues featuring nationally known performers. That’s a long way from a horse racing track with an adjacent horse racing entertainment center.
Other tribes operate casinos in the state with similar amenities. It’s hard to imagine many gamblers wanting that kind of casino experience being lured to Grants Pass for horse racing instead.
There should be room in Oregon for both types of entertainment, and Boersma says the state’s delay in making a decision on his request threatens more than 200 jobs.
The Oregon Racing Commission, which regulates horse racing at Grants Pass Downs and fairgrounds, was said to have ruled at Boersma’s request last fall, but postponed it after Governor Kate Brown urged the commission to consult the tribes and submit a legal opinion. from the State Department of Justice before making a decision. No opinion has been issued. Boersma filed a lawsuit last month to force the state to make a decision by 17 February at the latest.
The committee must stop dragging and make a decision.