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Tribes balk as Oregon horse track looks to add gaming machines

A feud over gaming in southern Oregon has more than 200 jobs on the line, and it could have statewide implications for gambling in the state.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — UPDATE: On Thursday, the Oregon Racing Commission approved the 2022 race season for Grants Pass Downs, but officials from Grants Pass Downs told the commission there would be no season if The Flying Lark is not granted its gaming machine license. The gambling center is still waiting on state regulators to issue a decision on the approval of gaming machines at The Flying Lark.

ORIGINAL STORY BELOW:

Six Oregon tribes are challenging an effort by the founder of Dutch Bros Coffee to build a gambling center with gaming machines in Grants Pass. The outcome of the challenge could have statewide implications.

The work is already underway to finish building The Flying Lark, a gambling center that would feature a restaurant and 225 gaming machines at Grants Pass Downs, the state's last remaining horse race track. 

In order for the place to open, the gaming machines must first be approved by state regulators. 

Dutch Bros founder Travis Boersma, owner of the track and the Flying Lark add-on, said more than 200 people will lose their jobs as early as the end of February if the Oregon Racing Commission does not approve a "historic horse racing" (HHR) application to allow the gaming machines.

Gaming in Oregon can only be controlled by Native American tribes unless an HHR application is approved. But Boersma said in the past three years, he's had no indication The Flying Lark's application would be denied.

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“We've met with tribes continuously, we met with political figures continuously,” said Boersma.

Last October, six tribes sent a letter asking state leaders to thoroughly review state-regulated gambling. An attorney for the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe said when they do, The Flying Lark's application must be rejected.

“It is exactly what it appears to be. It is a casino," said Anthony Broadman, general counsel for the Cow Creek band of the Umpqua Tribe. "It will be unlike any other facility in the state of Oregon, owned by one person and the state constitution bars that."

The application is in a holding pattern for now, as tribes push for elected officials to look into this case and the bigger picture.

"We think it's time for a new look, a fresh look by the legislature at exactly what Oregonians want and what is appropriate for the state in terms of the regulation of state gaming,” said Broadman.

The Oregon Racing Commission will meet on Thursday but the application isn't on the agenda. The commission is waiting for a Department of Justice opinion on application, and it is not clear when that will come down.