Governor Kate Brown Gently Pushes Racing Commission To Slow Game Expansion In Grants Pass

Governor Kate Brown has requested a pause in the Oregon Racing Commission review of a request for 225 betting terminals at Flying Lark, a destination proposed by the founder of Dutch Bros. Coffee for the Grants Pass.

“Thank you for your work on behalf of the Oregonians in fulfilling the statutory responsibilities of the Oregon Racing Commission,” Brown wrote on Nov. 9. “I am writing today to stress the importance of one of these responsibilities, the legal obligation to meaningfully consult with Tribes on issues that may significantly affect them.

The letter to Diego Conde, the chairman of the commission, and Jack McGrail, the executive director of the commission, arrived shortly after WW questioned the governor’s office about why Flying Lark was proceeding without considering the objections of Oregon’s native tribes, who depend on gambling revenues.

The Oregon constitution prohibits off-reserve casinos. The Flying Lark hopes to take advantage of a 2013 law that allows commercial racetracks to offer bets on “historic horse” machines. The tribes argue that these machines no longer meet the legal definition of pari-mutuel in which punters bet against each other, but rather akin to video slots in which bettors bet against the house.

Related: Oregon officials stand by as the founder of Dutch Bros. seeks to derive income from indigenous tribes.

In her letter, Brown pointed to a bill she worked on two decades ago, the first of its kind in the country to elevate a state’s communications with tribes to the next level.

“As a legislator, I helped pass Senate Bill 770, the bill that became ORS 182.162 – .168, the Oregon Tribal Consultation Statutes,” Brown wrote. “This act enshrines our shared commitment to a close government-to-government relationship between the state and the nine federally recognized sovereign tribes that inhabit the land now known as Oregon. Solid consultation is an essential part of the working relationship between our governments and an obligation that all bodies, boards and commissions must meet.

Pushback to the Flying Lark is run by the Cow Creek Band of Umqua Indians, whose 7 Feathers Casino is just 45 minutes north of Grants Pass Downs Racecourse, and the Grand Ronde, whose Spirit Mountain Casino near Sheridan is the largest in the state. The Tribes argued lawmakers had ignored their demand for a break on any gambling expansion in the state.

The Tribes also say the racing commission proposed to move forward on the Flying Lark without sufficient process or public debate. At a minimum, the tribes are asking for a state legal analysis to find out whether 225 betting machines violate the ban on non-reservation casinos and whether the historic horse racing machines Flying Lark is proposing to install meet the definition of mutual betting.

Earlier this week, McGrail, the executive director of the racing commission, said WW his committee would postpone the agenda item scheduled for November 18 on the Flying Lark.

Brown’s letter raises the possibility that the postponement could push the subject off until next year, when lawmakers in the short 2022 session could reconsider forming a task force that would bring all interested parties to the table to discuss the future of gambling in Oregon.

While Brown is sticking to her position, she won’t tell the commission what to do, her final words are clear enough instruction to slow down.

“While it is not my role as governor to influence agency licensing decisions, I nonetheless expect that, as part of its regulatory licensing function, the Commission Oregon Racing meets its legal obligation to meaningfully consult with tribal governments. This obligation includes consultation before any material change in gaming activity that could affect the tribes, “Brown wrote.

“Thank you for your commitment to continue your engagement with the tribes. If you have any questions about the appropriate scope and form of consultation, I recommend that you have conversations directly with the tribes, and I also encourage you to contact the Legislative Commission on Indian Services and the Department of Justice of the ‘Oregon. “

McGrail did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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