Several Oregon tribes are backing two new House bills ahead of next week’s legislative session in an effort to potentially shut down private casinos across the state. The move comes amid the Flying Lark’s -a proposed destination resort from the founder of the Dutch Bros. Coffee franchise- plan to open an HHR betting facility, which tribes have long opposed.
The Flying Lark has a pending application for 225 Historic Horse Racing betting terminals for its Grants Pass, Josephine County location. While the state constitution prohibits off-reservation casinos, the Flying Lark seeks to take advantage of a 2013 law, which allows commercial horse tracks to offer betting on historical horse racing machines.
On Tuesday, House Bill 4046 and 4047 were filed at the request of the House Interim Committee on Rules, reports KOBI-TV NBC5. The bills are backed by the Confederate Tribes of Grande Ronde, Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, and the Klamath Tribes.
HB 4046 seeks to establish a special joint committee on state gambling: its members would study gambling in the state, along with the impact of technology. The body would also “evaluate the effectiveness” of the current regulatory systems “that govern state-sanctioned gambling.”
But most notably, the legislation asks to prohibit approval of new Oregon State Lottery games and licenses from the Oregon Racing Commission until January 2, 2023. The bill would declare it an emergency if enrolled.
Another part of the proposed legislation also seeks to require the special joint committee to provide an opportunity for public comment. This would include people in affected communities, law enforcement and horse industry representatives.
Meanwhile, HB 4047 seeks to impose “certain requirements” on devices for wagering on historical animal racing, precisely the type of machines Flying Lark intends to operate within its establishment.
Should the legislation be passed, it would require HHR machines to show the final eight seconds of the race after the bet is placed, and the video of the race would then have to occupy at least 70% of the screen.
The bill states the display “may not use casino graphics, themes or titles,” including “depictions of playing cards, dice, craps, roulette, lotto, bingo, or traditional slot machine symbols.” This requirement would prevent the proposed destination resort from receiving the HHR machines, which are notably similar to regular casino gaming machines.
“We’re simply asking the legislature to pause and examine and study as it has done periodically,” Anthony Broadman, an attorney with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians said prior to the filings, according to KOBI-TV NBC5. “Gaming technology has advanced rapidly. We are seeing it with the attempted expansion of private gambling within the state.”
In anticipation of its slated opening in the spring, bars, event rooms and a banquet hall, among other amenities, have already been installed at the Flying Lark Entertainment Center, reports News 10. If approved, the HHR machines would provide the destination its gaming offerings.
Tribal leaders claim the technology of these betting terminals creates a loophole to the state’s gambling laws. "It really does remove any element of skill that identifies it as an HHR machine and even as a tool to complement and support the horse racing industry," said Alicia McAuley, Director of Surveillance for the Cow Creek Gaming & Regulatory Commission.
Tribes in the state consider that the Flying Lark, if approved to operate these machines, would unfairly compete on casino revenue with tribal gaming venues. This industry is an important source of funding for tribal nations in Oregon.
In November, Oregon Governor Kate Brown pushed the state’s Racing Commission to slow down on the considered gambling expansion. Brown urged commissioners to “meaningfully consult” with tribal governments on the application for the betting terminals.
“Robust consultation is a critical element of the working relationship between our governments, and an obligation that all agencies, boards, and commissions must satisfy,” she said at the time, a nod toward tribes.