Oregon Tribes Seek to Sink Coffee Magnate’s Gambling Plan for Grants Pass Downs

Posted on: October 12, 2021, 06:37h. 

Last updated on: October 12, 2021, 02:24h.

A coffee magnate who hopes to open a gambling and entertainment center at the Grants Pass Downs racetrack in southern Oregon is facing the wrath of six regional tribal operators, Oregon Live reports.

Grants Pass Downs
Jockeys racing at Grants Pass Downs, above. Owned by “coffee king” Travis Boersma, it is the last commercial racetrack left in Oregon. (Image: Grants Pass Downs)

Travis Boersma is the state’s newest billionaire, after his coffee chain, Dutch Bros, raised $500 million in an IPO in September. The Grants Pass native owns the racetrack and hopes his planned “Flying Lark” gambling center will transform his hometown into a national epicenter of racing.

The Flying Lark, named for a famous Oregon thoroughbred, will have 250 historical horseracing terminals, a sports bar, a family restaurant, and a banquet area. The terminals resemble slots but allow players to bet on replays of past races, with the identities of those races obscured.

Smell the Coffee

But an alliance of tribes last week asked Gov. Kate Brown (D) to rigorously examine Boersma’s plans, saying they will fundamentally alter gambling in the state to the detriment of tribal casinos. The tribes also want a comprehensive review of gambling in Oregon, noting it has been 25 years since that last was undertaken.

Signatories to the letter include the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, which operates the Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, 40 miles north of Grants Pass.

Historical horse racing machines have been legal in Oregon since 2012, but only at racetracks. Following the demise of Portland Meadows in 2019, Grants Pass is the only commercial horse racetrack currently in operation in the state.

The machines are legal because they broadly use the pari-mutuel betting system permitted at racetracks, although the tribes dispute this. They claim the newest generation of machines have evolved beyond the pari-mutuel system to the point where they are “nothing other than slot machines, from a player perspective.”

In Oregon, the tribes hold exclusivity on slots and casino gaming under the terms of their compacts. They feel this right is being threatened, not only by historical horse racing but also by mobile sports betting, available since 2019.

“The state’s regulatory framework has not evolved to reflect new technology or its impacts on the public,” the tribes wrote. “We are at a critical moment where the state is about to approve the largest expansion of state-regulated gambling in decades without public or legislative input.”

Tiny Agency

Brown has previously said she would defer to the Oregon Racing Commission on the issue of the Flying Lark’s gaming terminals. But the tribes argue this tiny agency, which employs just ten people, is ill-equipped to regulate the modern gaming market.

Meanwhile, the Flying Lark plans to open this fall, regulators permitting.

In a recently published economic impact study, its owner claimed the center and its racetrack will generate $10.7 billion in net new spending in Oregon, create 2,007 net new full-time jobs, and pay $361.9 million in tax over the next 30 years.