Tribes Question Oregon Gambling Regulations

Written By Jamie Park on November 23, 2021

Six Tribal Nations have petitioned Governor Kate Brown with concerns about a new generation of historical horse racing machines (HHRs). The petition comes ahead of the Flying Lark, a proposed Oregon gambling and entertainment center in Grants Pass. The Tribes expressly say that a comprehensive review is overdue for the state’s gambling laws, last updated 25 years ago.

What are Historical Horse Racing Machines?

Historical horse racing is gambling that lets players bet on replays of horse races.

Also known as “instant racing,” HHRs look and operate much like slot machines. But unlike slot machines, HHRs use game math based on the results of past horse races, rather than bingo math or random number generators.

Oregon’s horse racing exception

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed in 1988 by the United States Congress to regulate gaming on Indian Lands. In Oregon, the Tribes have exclusivity on slots and casino gaming, except for horse tracks

In states like Oregon, where casinos are restricted by exclusivity, the industry developed HHR machines to help qualify for the historical exception granted to track owners.

Enter the Flying Lark gambling center

One horse track is moving forward with HHRs. If successful, off-track betting operators may petition policymakers to install HHRs at their facilities, too. 

Billionaire Travis Boerma, Dutch Bros. Coffee founder and owner of the Grants Pass Downs racetrack, hopes the Flying Lark gambling center will become a national epicenter of racing. The proposed center, named after a famous Oregon thoroughbred, will be adjacent to the track. Specifically, the Flying Lark plan includes:

  • 250 historic horse racing machines
  • Sports bar
  • Family restaurant
  • Banquet area 

Mike Thiessen, president of the Flying Lark, said:

“We are committed to paying a living wage in southern Oregon, which will have nothing but a positive impact in peoples’ lives.”

Tribal casino revenues at stake

The Tribes, however, feel strongly that this will simultaneously attract business away from Tribal casinos and the Oregon State Lottery. Ultimately, they say, it paves the way for more gambling venues on other tracks in the state.

An ECONorthwest study estimated that, given the number of racetracks and OTB facilities in Oregon, the new HHR machines will likely alter the competitive landscape. Finally, the study suggests that money earned from HHRs will come at the expense of the Oregon Lottery and Tribes, unless new ventures can increase the number of gamblers and how much Oregonians gamble.

As a result, the threat to Tribal casino revenues is a valid concern.

Photo by Cheryl Ann Quiqley / Shutterstock.com
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