Denial Of Flying Lark HHR License Could Escalate Wrangling Over Legal Status Of Machines In Oregon

Written By Derek Helling on February 23, 2022
Oregon Sets up For A Larger Battle For Flying Lark Gaming

While the matter of a Flying Lark gaming license might be settled, for now, it could prove to be the stereotypical final straw that puts the dromedary’s spine in a state of disrepair. Before the proverbial

dust settles, more action from the Oregon legislature and involvement from the state’s courts might be what’s necessary to settle a conflict between commercial and tribal gaming interests in the state.

The conflict is over the operation of historical horse racing (HHR) machines at commercial venues in OR. The Flying Lark’s denial gives tribal interests a victory, but it might not yet be a clean win.

Flying Lark gaming license denied

In what looks like acting with a forced hand, the OR Racing Commission denied a license application to run 225 HHR machines at the Flying Lark near Grants Pass Downs last week. The ruling came after other state authorities weighed in on the subject.

Just a few days prior, the OR Justice Dept. issued a ruling on the matter. It stated that the plans to offer the gaming constituted an illegal casino. In OR, the only legal casinos exist on sovereign land and are tribal casinos.

After the DOJ released the opinion, Gov. Kate Brown also made her sentiments clear. She stated that she expected the Commission members, who she appointed and can replace, to act in accordance with the DOJ’s opinion.

Thus, the Commission did exactly that. It didn’t do so quietly, however. As they denied the license, they also unanimously approved a resolution. The resolution stated their dissent with the DOJ’s opinion.

Their resolution referred to the state’s 2013 law allowing for the operation of pari-mutuel betting machines. It also stated that the former Portland Meadows track offered similar machines for years before its closure.

Commission members alluded to the fact that it might take court action to clarify exactly what is and isn’t legal in OR. The disparate and serious interests on both sides of the issue make it more likely that this dispute could end up in court as well.

Claim your $200 Risk Free Bet at TVG!

How courts legislature could move on the issue

The primary investor in the Flying Lark, Travis Boersma, has not yet commented on whether he will take legal action against the Commission’s decision. One party that would be very interested if that does happen is the operators of tribal casinos in the state.

They have maintained that the only legal form of gaming outside their auspices in OR is the Oregon Lottery. They see the proliferation of any other form of gambling as direct competition to their casinos.

Should Boersma challenge the decision in court, they might petition the courts to file an amicus brief in support of the state’s defense or, in other ways, lend their voice to support the decision. They are more active in the state legislature.

A coalition of tribal casino operators has supported the introduction of two bills. One would place further restrictions on what kind of HHR machines businesses in the state can offer to customers. The other would effectively place a moratorium on any new commercial gaming.

Should the former bill become law, that could strengthen tribal casinos’ exclusivity. Much of their opposition to HHR machines involves how strongly the games resemble slot machines. For that reason, the bill’s language includes rules that would strike at those exact features.

If the legislature lets the bill die, businesses that want to offer HHR gaming might take that as a sign that the future could be more kind to their interests. A potential court ruling in their favor on the Flying Lark license would be the strongest encouragement, though.

That’s exactly what the tribal casinos probably most want to avoid. Although the Commission’s role is over in this matter, the issue of the legality of HHR gaming in OR might be far from settled. In fact, this might just be the beginning.

Photo by Gabriel12 / Shutterstock.com
Derek Helling Avatar
Written by
Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

View all posts by Derek Helling
Privacy Policy