In Oregon, it’s tribal casinos or no casinos.
The state’s law only allows casinos operated by one of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes. Eight of those tribes own the state’s nine casinos, and those casinos have a staggering economic impact on the state’s economy.
To preserve that influence, the tribes have done their best to protect their domain over casino gambling in Oregon.
Over the past few months, those efforts to protect their properties have come into the spotlight amid a battle with a local billionaire.
Oregon’s nine tribally owned casinos
These are the eight tribes that run nine casinos across Oregon:
Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians of Oregon
- Three Rivers Casino Resort (Florence)
- Three Rivers Casino Resort (Coos Bay)
Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation
- Chinook Winds Casino Resort
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon
- Spirit Mountain Casino
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, Oregon
- Wildhorse Resort & Casino
Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of OR
- Indian Head Casino
Coquille Tribe of Oregon
- The Mill Casino Hotel
Klamath Tribes of Oregon
- Kla-Mo-Ya Casino
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians
- Seven Feathers Casino Resort
Oregon tribal casinos have a huge impact on the state’s economy
Because Oregon doesn’t have commercial (non-tribal) casinos, the state doesn’t release revenue reports that detail the financials of the casinos that operate in its state. Therefore, it’s hard to have an up-to-date understanding of how well Oregon’s tribal casinos are doing.
The most recent numbers available are from 2016. And, as of 2016, the 10 tribal casinos generated $510.4 million in revenue. Per state law, that revenue is split up several ways.
For example, a portion of the revenue is shared among the tribes. Another slice of the pie goes to the state via taxes.
Overall, the tribes’ casinos have a $1.26 billion impact on Oregon’s economy, according to the American Gaming Association. Furthermore, the casinos support more than 10,000 jobs statewide.
The state’s tribes are vocal about protecting casinos
In many states where there are tribal casinos, there’s a kind of steady tension between the tribes’ exclusivity over casinos and non-tribal groups who run horse tracks, pari–mutuel facilities, and card rooms.
Basically, non-tribe groups try to bring in as much revenue as they can, and they occasionally try to push the limits of the law to generate more cash.
A good example of that has unfolded in Oregon over the past year or so.
Well-known billionaire Dutch Bros co-founder Travis Boersma owns Grants Pass Downs, a horse track in Grants Pass. Boersma planned to build a gaming center called The Flying Lark that would feature 225 historic-horse racing (HHR) terminals.
Depending on who you ask, HHRs are legitimate horse–racing betting machines or they’re just slot machines. The state of Oregon sided with the former, as state law permits HHRs. In that sense, Flying Lark seemed good to go.
However, some of the Oregon tribes didn’t agree. The Flying Lark would poach gamblers and employees from tribal casinos, one tribe said.
Klamath Tribes chairman speaks out
Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry appeared before the Oregon Racing Commission (ORC) in October to voice his displeasure with The Flying Lark process.
The Flying Lark would hurt Oregon’s nine tribes, Gentry said. Also, the ORC failed to consult with the tribes about Boersma’s application for The Flying Lark, and that, Gentry said, was against state law.
ORC minutes from the October meeting note:
“The tribes are sovereign nations, but there has been no consultation between the ORC and the tribes, as required by law, and no proactive outreach to the tribes, he stated. Mr. Gentry added this is a violation of promises made to the tribes and no action should be taken on HHR until consultations are complete.”
Oregon DOJ lands a fatal blow to Flying Lark
Then, this past February, the Oregon Department of Justice (ODOJ) released an opinion paper that shocked the state and, to a certain extent the nationwide gambling community.
The ODOJ said that HHRs were slot machines, and because they were slot machines, installing 225 at Flying Lark would make the property a casino. And, according to state law, only federally recognized tribes can run casinos.
It’s hard to say exactly why the ODOJ chose to issue its opinion. But one thing is certain; the collective voice of Oregon’s federally recognized tribes was heard.