Senate Bill 1503

Debates to legalize betting on college sports in Oregon meet tribal opposition

Oregon State Capitol.
Reading time 2:17 min

The bill proposed to legalize betting on college sports in Oregon faced pushback from tribal representatives and anti-gambling organizations Tuesday during its initial public hearing in the Oregon Legislature

Even though it is legal in the state to place bets on the outcomes and achievements of professional sports games, teams and athletes, betting on college sports is banned. Senate Bill 1503, sponsored by Senate President Peter Courtney, would allow the Oregon Lottery to conduct gambling opportunities based on the outcomes of college sports games. 

The bill came into the hearing with some amendments banning betting on individual athletic performances and direct net proceeds toward funding the Oregon Opportunity Grant program, the state’s largest publicly funded, need-based grant program for college students. 

Courtney stated betting on college sports is a current practice, occurring in the unregulated, illegal market, and said that regulating it would imply protecting gamblers. 

The bill also intends to redirect the revenue toward grants for college students, which would impact education funding. Courtney estimated the new revenue could add up to 3,000 new grants for college students, the Statesman Journal reported. 

“This will stabilize and permanently fund Opportunity grants in a very powerful way. This is a major source of funding in the millions of dollars”, he stated. 

Opponents such as Justin Martin, representing the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, said Senate Bill 1503 would pull funds away from Oregon’s Native American tribes, which largely rely on casino revenues to fund essential services. 

Only a few tribes have the ability to offer college sports betting. However they can only do so on reservation lands, which are located in rural areas and distanced from the state’s population hubs. 

Martin described the Bill as “taking money out of the tribes’ pockets” and insisted on the need to “take a pause and study this, and look at the right way to do things in Oregon moving forward”, encouraging lawmakers to set up a task force to study gambling expansion efforts, advancements in technology, impacts on key stakeholders and the way in which other states regulate gambling.

Martin’s task force idea was supported by Kitty Martz, executive director of Voices of Problem Gambling Recovery, stating: “We’re becoming widely known in the gambling industry as the wild west, where anything goes with gambling in Oregon”.

Martz referred to online gambling making the difference in contrast with the panorama that existed when Oregon voters approved the creation of a state lottery in 1984. The greater gambling availability it brings also carries a higher risk of addiction, and also impacts tribes’ current casino operations. “There’s every bit of evidence that it would, in fact, interfere with what the tribes are doing with their brick and mortar facilities”, she concluded. 

House Bill 4046 has been filed at the request of the House Interim Committee on Rules to create such a task force, but has not been debated yet. This and House Bill 4047 are supported 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. 

House Bill 4047 seeks to impose "certain requirements" on devices for wagering on historical animal racing. 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.

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