Flying Lark Plans in Disarray, Oregon AG Says HHR Machines Are ‘Slots’

Home » Flying Lark Plans in Disarray, Oregon AG Says HHR Machines Are ‘Slots’

Posted on: February 14, 2022, 12:37h. 

Last updated on: February 14, 2022, 12:37h.

Ambitions to install 225 historical horse racing machines at Grant Pass Downs’ new gaming and entertainment center could be a nonstarter.

Flying Lark
Travis Boersma, above, celebrating the Dutch Bros. Coffee IPO that made him a billionaire last year. But he wasn’t so jubilant about the Oregon AG’s opinion on HHRs Friday. (Image: Dutch Bros. Coffee)

On Friday, Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum issued an opinion that the machines sought by the Flying Lark facility were more like slots and lottery games than the pari-mutuel horse race betting permitted at racetracks.

In a nine-page opinion, the AG’s Office said than no more 75 such machines should be permitted at any one venue because it would violate the ban on casinos in the state.

That’s because the Oregon Supreme court has determined that “establishments whose dominant use or dominant purpose, or both, is for gambling” qualify as casinos.

Smell the Coffee

Grants Pass Downs is owned by billionaire Travis Boersma, who, with his brother, Dane, founded the Dutch Bros Coffee company. The brothers were born and raised in the southwest Oregon town of Grants Pass.

Boersma has said he believes the Flying Lark will help transform Grants Pass, Oregon’s last thoroughbred racetrack, into an “epicenter of global racing.” But he needs those machines.

In January, the coffee magnate said he would be forced to lay off 226 workers — that’s 1.004 per machine — unless the state racing commission greenlit the application.

Historical horse racing terminals enable players to wager on replays of past races with the identities of those races hidden. They are permitted at racetracks because they broadly use the pari-mutuel betting system permitted in the Oregon constitution.

But the AG opinion, written by chief counsel Renee Stineman, said they are nothing more than “electronic games of chance with no meaningful relationship to traditional parimutuel racing wagers.”

“It is evident from their features that the games are designed to encourage players to insert payment, push a button, and watch what happens,” she wrote.

Tribal Backlash

The Oregon Racing Commission requested the legal opinion after receiving the Flying Lark application last year. The proposed gambling expansion had prompted a backlash from a coalition of tribal operators. They felt their exclusivity on casino gaming in the state was under threat.

The tribes wanted a comprehensive review of the state’s gambling landscape, noting it has been a quarter of a century since the last one.

Boersma now faces an uphill battle. But in an official statement, he sounded like he was in a fighting mood. He said the opinion “willfully disregards the state’s laws, which were lobbied for and agreed upon by Oregon’s sovereign nations.”

I believe the Oregon Racing Commission is acting in good faith and the process will ultimately reveal the Flying Lark to be a legal venture that serves to improve Oregon’s economy,” he continued.

“I remain committed to saving horse racing in Oregon, providing family wage jobs in Southern Oregon, and working closely with tribal leaders to ensure all Oregonians benefit from the opening of the Flying Lark.”

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