October 27, 2021 Sports Betting, Tribal

Oregon tribes take stand against historic horse racing

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Legal gray area provides fodder to both sides of debate.

In Oregon, protests have been leveled by six tribal nations against the newly-minted billionaire and drive-in coffee tycoon Travis Boersma’s plans to offer historic horse racing at a gambling center abutting his racetrack, Grants Pass Downs. Tribal leaders, in a message to governor Kate Brown and other state officials, claim that Boersma’s plan represents the effective legalization of gambling in Oregon without any review of the matter. 

Opponents issued a report claiming that the plan – which would see 250 historic horse racing terminals installed at the track – will take business away from the tribal casinos as well as the Oregon State Lottery, and open the door for more unregulated gambling facilities in the state.  

Historic racing terminals allow people to bet on horse races that happened in the past. 

On both sides of the debate there are legal and commercial issues, as well as matters surrounding precedent, that hold water. This has led to a legal gray area.  

In Oregon, gambling is restricted to tribal lands with the exception of horse racing. Tribal leaders claim that historical horse racing is essentially a casino slot machine: customers put in their money, push some buttons, and either win or lose.  

Boersma, on the other hand, maintains that this is horse betting, which is the one exception to the rule against gambling. Portland Meadows, a racetrack which closed in 2019 and was, until Grants Pass Downs opened, the state’s only commercial track, had no fewer than 100 historic horse racing terminals. The owner also claims that the new racetrack would suffer a similar fate as Portland Meadows were it not to augment its earnings with these terminals.  

Ultimately, the tribes are calling on the tiny Oregon Racing Commission (ORC) to do its job and regulate the industry better. The ORC has become quietly powerful, issuing licenses for out-of-state off-track bettors who collectively saw over $3.5bn in volume in the first half of this year.  

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