In Short

Dutch Bros founder’s Grants Pass gambling plans violate Oregon Constitution, attorney general says

By: - February 11, 2022 5:42 pm

Oregon Department of Justice/Oregon State Archives

The Oregon Constitution won’t allow the billionaire co-founder of a drive-thru coffee chain to add a casino-like resort to a Grants Pass horse track he owns, the state Justice Department said in a legal opinion released Friday.

The 9-page opinion by Renee Stineman, chief counsel in the department’s General Counsel Division, responded to an inquiry from the Oregon Racing Commission, which was considering whether to allow Dutch Bros co-founder Travis Boersma to install 225 historic horse racing machines near his horse track.

The Constitution bars casinos, except for those operated by indigenous people on their reservations, and it prohibits lotteries except for one run by the state. Betting on horse races is legal, however.

Historic horse racing machines let users bet on the outcome of a randomly selected horse race from the past and closely resemble slot machines. Stineman wrote that the machines are closer to a lottery than the allowed parimutuel betting, in which all bets on a race are pooled and split among winners after the horse track takes its cut.

Beyond that, having 225 of the machines in a single place constitutes a casino, she said.

“These machines are electronic games of chance with no meaningful relationship to traditional pari-mutuel racing wagers,” Stineman wrote. “Concentrating 225 of them on a dedicated gaming area would create a space that is predominantly used for gambling and is readily recognizable as a casino.”

The Justice Department sent its opinion to the racing commission Tuesday but didn’t publicly disclose it until Friday. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan announced that her Audits Division would audit the racing commission this year.

Six of Oregon’s recognized tribes organized against Boersma’s proposed Flying Lark resort, saying it would lure gamblers away from tribal casinos. Tribal governments use revenue from casinos to pay for government services including schools and police on reservation land. Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, operated by the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Indian Tribe of Indians, is 40 miles north of Grants Pass.

The racing commission allowed a now-defunct race track, Portland Meadows, to install 150 historic horse racing machines in 2015, according to legal documents filed in December by Boersma’s company, TMB Racing as part of an unsuccessful lawsuit to force the racing commission to hasten its decision. 

Boersma commissioned an economic study predicting that the 225 historic horse racing machines would add $10 billion in new spending and create 2,000 jobs over the next 30 years.

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.