Travis Boersma, the accomplished businessman trying to install 225 historic horse racing machines at his Flying Lark property at Grants Pass Downs, won’t give up.
The Oregon Department of Justice (ODOJ) recently issued an opinion stating that the HHRs that Boersma wants to install are considered games of chance and against Oregon law unless run by the state.
But Boersma is unfazed. During public comment at an Oregon Racing Commission (ORC) meeting last month, he said he would continue to be a force for God.
The Flying Lark, the DOJ, and the definition of HHRs
Boersma and his company, TMB Racing LLC, run Flying Lark in Grant’s Pass. TMB planned to expand Flying Lark’s operations by adding 225 HHR machines.
It didn’t seem like the HHRs would be an issue. Oregon law allows the machines, and HHRs are currently used by casinos and race tracks in several states. They’re generally viewed as parimutuel machines, a distinction that keeps HHRs out of the slot-machine realm.
However, earlier this year, the ODOJ stated that HHRs are slot machines, not games of skill or true parimutuel machines. Adding them to Flying Lark would make the facility a casino. And since the casino isn’t tribe-operated, it would be illegal. Consequently, the ORC voted to deny the Flying Lark’s application for a license to operate, halting the facility’s launch.
Boersma takes a shot at the Oregon DOJ
Boersma, understandably, was not happy with the ODOJ’s decision.
“My team and I believe the opinion is wrong and deeply flawed,” he said during the ORC’s February meeting.
One of the more intriguing arguments made during the ORC meeting came from Boersma.
The ODOJ’s opinion would mean that the state’s lawmakers and organizations have stood by as Portland Meadows operated more than 100 HHRs (until its closing in 2019), Boersma argued.
“If taken at face value, it would mean state leaders, state organizations including the DOJ and others…stood by and, in many cases, supported unconstitutional gambling for years at Portland Meadows,” he said.
Boersma framed the issue in the context of horse racing, saying the decision would cost his property 200 jobs. He went on to say he hoped that TMB and the state’s tribes could work together to find a solution.
Cow Creek consultant fires back
Anna Richter Taylor, a consultant for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, was the only person in the meeting who expressed support for the ODOJ’s decision.
“This was never an issue about supporting or not supporting live horse racing, and there’s still I believe opportunity to have to participation and support and partnership on that,” Richter Taylor said.
She noted that the tribes’ alleged narrative against economic development because of their anti-HHR stance is patently false.
“I hope that we can all use this as an opportunity to come together and support our rural regions as well as live horse racing without the gambling aspect with these HHR slot machines,” Richter Taylor said.
After Richter Taylor’s comments, Boersma commented again. He again stated that 200 employees would lose jobs because of the ODOJ’s decision, calling the situation “horrific.”
“I just want to reiterate my thanks and appreciation for all the support we’ve had,” Boersma said. “I’m not giving up. I’m gonna continue to be a force for God and a force for good in this endeavor.”
ORC reluctance is noted in a unanimous statement
Another takeaway from the ORC’s meeting is that the commission unanimously voted to approve a statement by the ORC in response to the ODOJ decision.
Although the ORC didn’t read the statement verbatim, Commissioner Charles Williamson summarized the statement.
“Flying Lark is a completely legal constitutional entity,” Williamson said. “It’s not a casino. Casinos have roulette wheels, they have craps tables, they have blackjack, they have lottery drawings. Flying Lark has none of these. All it is is a couple hundred historical racing machines which have been licensed in Portland and should be licenses in Grants Pass.”
After Williamson’s comments, the ORC voted unanimously to adopt the statement. It then voted to deny TMB Racing LLC’s application for a license to operate.