Earlier this March, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney made his intentions clear: he intends to end wagering on greyhound races. His bill, SB 1504, makes it illegal for gambling operators in the state to accept wagers on greyhound races.
This legislation considers betting on the races a Class A misdemeanor. Moreover, facilitating the bets would get you a Class C felony.
Great, let’s do it then, right? There hasn’t been a Greyhound race in the state of Oregon since 2004. However, now seems as good of a time as any to nip this nasty sport in the bud.
Only nine states in the country allow live dog racing in 2022, but just three-run live racetracks:
- Iowa (phasing it out)
- Arkansas (phasing it out)
- West Virginia
Not exactly what was expected
There aren’t any active greyhound races in Oregon currently, so this bill should pass with little to no hesitation, right? However, just one week after its birth, an amendment to the bill was circulated that stirred up some suspicion. Eyebrows truly started to raise.
The new amendments to the bill made it almost unrecognizable next to the original, and this news stunned many. A 5–year prison sentence and a $125,000 fine became yearly statement requirements in the blink of an eye. However, the amended bill was later approved in the Oregon House of Representatives, 38-20.
Many in support of the original bill were left scratching their heads. Why did so much change in such little time? In order to begin to understand some of the reasons behind the bill’s drastic re–writing, it’s important to understand how betting works in Oregon as a whole.
Oregon’s relationship with advance-deposit wagering
Oregon is somewhat of a hub for advance–deposit wagering operators that handle parimutuel betting. In simpler terms, lots of operators handling national online wagers primarily go through Oregon (for advantageous tax purposes).
Going even deeper, a large majority of the handling that goes through the Oregon hub results from horse racing. If this original greyhound betting ban was passed, many of the advance-deposit wagering operators (ADWs) in Oregon would leave.
The Oregon Racing Commission found that would cause a $7 million decrease in revenue from 2023–2025.
While $7 million sounds like a lot of money, it really isn’t in the grand scheme of things. The 2021-2023 legislature budget calls for total expenditures of over $112.7 billion–so $7 million is really just a drop in the bucket.
So why change the bill so much for just $7 million? Well, a closer look at the original bill may spell out some serious implications for not only the future of greyhound betting, but horse betting in the state of Oregon.
Horse racing catches shrapnel in Greyhound Bill explosion
“If I had my way, I’d shut down horse racing in a heartbeat,” said Senator Courtney, the lead proponent of this bill. “But I’m not going to get into that. I’ve already had that fight.”
It’s this kind of language from Senator Courtney that may have pushed his hand in amending his bill.
The legality of horseracing, which is responsible for more than $6 billion going through the hub, was never really in danger. However, Courtney’s comments have inspired some AD companies to stand and oppose the bill.
One of the biggest proponents of the new bill was Churchill Downs, who operate the ADW TwinSpires through the Oregon hub.
“[Churchill Downs] made a major investment in two weeks,” said Carey Theil, the executive director of the anti greyhound racing advocacy group GREY2k USA Worldwide, “[they] paratrooped in, and hired the two best and most expensive lobbying firms in Oregon.”
Churchill Downs declined to comment further on these allegations. Nevertheless, their sentiments are somewhat clear by testimony in opposition to the bill from the Oregon Quarter Horse Racing Association.
“Businesses would be forced to move out of Oregon in order to continue operations,” claimed Richard Angstrom in the testimony. He continues to say that this would further lead to the elimination of horse racing in the state.
Despite Senator Courtney’s remarks, those in support of the original bill continue to claim that horse racing was never in danger.
“In my opposition to facilitating dog racing, it is not my goal or desire to impact horse racing,” said State Representative David Gomberg. “I’m being told that will be the end result, which has me scratching my head a little bit.”
We look forward to seeing how everything plays out in the coming weeks. All we know is: Oregon loves its horse racing, and will do anything to protect it.