After a Mixed Session for Gambling Interests, Legislative and Tribal Leaders Will Chart Path Forward

An expansion in Grants Pass failed and a bill that would have legalized betting on college sports died—but so did a tribal bill seeking a task force on gambling.

Oregon’s contentious gambling industry is inching toward a comprehensive discussion of how three players—the state-owned Oregon Lottery; the state’s nine federally recognized Indigenous tribes; and a plethora of private interests—will split the wagering pie.

The tribes went into the February legislative session pushing a bill that would have halted all expansion pending a sit-down at which all three groups could discuss what’s possible in the future and who should benefit from it.

As WW previously reported, while that bill was pending, the Oregon Department of Justice opined that the proposed inclusion of 225 gambling terminals at the horse-racing track in Grants Pass would violate the Oregon Constitution’s prohibition of off-reservation casinos. And a bill that would have legalized betting on Oregon college sporting events died without a floor vote.

Five tribes pointedly opposed that bill, which was sponsored by just one lawmaker: Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem).

Those two outcomes softened the blow to the tribes of seeing their request for a comprehensive discussion fail again, as it did during the 2021 regular session.

But a week after this year’s short session ended March 4, five tribes—the Cow Creek, Grand Ronde, Klamath, Umatilla and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw—wrote to Courtney and House Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis).

“We are writing to request a meeting with you in the spirit of our government-to-government relationship regarding our continued request for the state of Oregon to convene a special Joint Committee on Gambling,” tribal leaders wrote.

“It has been more than 25 years since the state has led a comprehensive review of the state-gambling regulatory structure. Another examination is long overdue and necessary given the evolution of technology in gambling and the constant pressures to expand state government-sponsored and private gambling in Oregon.”

Courtney’s chief of staff, Lisa Taylor, says the Senate president is ready to talk. “Our office is setting up a meeting between Sen. Courtney and the tribes,” Taylor says.

Danny Moran, a spokesman for Rayfield, says the new speaker also looks forward to making progress on the issue.

“Speaker Rayfield committed to establish a joint committee on gambling weeks ago, and his office has been in contact with Tribal members to plan next steps,” Moran says. “He shares concerns about the expansion of gambling options in the state and the impact it will have on the Tribes.”