Good News And Bad News: Oregon Horse Racing Is Up, While State Lottery Sees Steep Drop

Posted on July 31, 2020 - Last Updated on August 24, 2020

The habits of gamblers can often be unpredictable.

While one segment of the industry that produces Oregon gambling revenue saw a dramatic drop in sales, another nearly quadrupled its year-over-year activity.

The Oregon Lottery was the former party, while the state’s most popular horse racing track was the latter. Just the fact that the lottery saw a huge downturn over the past few months is somewhat odd as well.

Bumper summer for Oregon horse racing

Grants Pass Downs in Grants Pass came out of the gate strong this summer. The four-week commercial meet, which ended July 8, brought $2,235,303 in wagers.

That’s nearly four times the handle from its noncommercial meet last summer. Most of the wagering action did not occur at the track, however.

Grants Pass shared that bettors placed 94% of the wagers either online or at off-track betting sites. Part of that split was intentional. The track is limiting its nonessential personnel capacity on race days to 250 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thus, it’s easy to explain part of the Oregon sports betting trends. Another possible explanation was the lack of other domestic sporting events.

Through those four weeks, the most high-profile domestic events were NASCAR and PGA competitions. The NWSL did start its tournament at the tail end of that month, but wagering on horse races is much more culturally entrenched.

More activity at the racetrack also probably played a role in the increase of betting activity. The average field in the races for this year’s meet was 7.94 horses, while last year’s sat at 5.34 horses.

For whatever combination of reasons, it was a stellar beginning of the summer at Grants Pass Downs. However, lottery retailers around the state can’t say the same.

Quite a different story for the lottery

The Oregon Lottery reported in April that sales were down 90% as compared to the same month last year. The pandemic likely had some role in this, as more Oregonians avoided unnecessary excursions.

However, that hasn’t been the case across the country.

As a matter of fact, the Tennessee Lottery had its best year ever in terms of sales. Like in Oregon, the only way to buy a lottery ticket in TN is at a brick-and-mortar retailer.

While there are likely many other factors that played into the situation, the effects of the decrease are apparent. The state has canceled or postponed 37 projects due to a lack of funds.

The Oregon Legislature had earmarked over $237 million for those projects. The projects included infrastructure works like water system overhauls and the creation of new housing.

If lottery sales continue to fall far short of expectations, more cuts could be necessary. A May estimate showed a $2.7 billion deficit for the state in its current budget, with more on the horizon.

Lottery sales rebounding could diminish the shortfall, as could more tax revenue from horse racing. So far, it seems the latter of those two gambling options has been a lot more popular among Oregonians.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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