Legislative Leaders Finally Agree to Tribes’ Request to Take a Big Look at Gambling in Oregon

The industry faces expansion pressures from a variety of directions.

Legislative leaders said April 15 they would form an eight-member joint committee to review gambling in Oregon, granting a request that tribal leaders made last year and repeated again in the short session earlier this year.

“The scope of legal gambling has expanded and changed in major ways in recent years,” House Speaker Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) said. “Americans spent more money on gambling in 2021 than in any previous year. We must be mindful of the wide-ranging impacts of this growing industry, including on sovereign Tribal governments and Oregonians struggling with addiction. This is an important time to study how other states are approaching this new era.”

There’s a lot to consider.

The Oregon Lottery, the state’s second-largest source of revenue after income taxes, has been eager to expand mobile gambling, including betting on Oregon college sports. Other private gambling interests also want to operate in the state. Travis Boersma, co-founder of Dutch Bros. Coffee, has been eager to expand gambling at Grants Pass Downs, the state’s only remaining commercial horse track.

Gov. Kate Brown asked the Oregon Lottery to delay further expansion last year, and the Oregon Department of Justice issued an opinion in February blocking the installation of 225 betting terminals at the Grants Pass track, saying the machines would violate Oregon’s constitutional prohibition of off-reservation casinos.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes, which depend heavily on casino revenue to fund services, have watched nervously as their competitors have sought to offer new ways to wager. (Oregon’s historical tribal casino market has also been subject to expansion pressure as the Siletz Tribe seeks to build a large new casino in Salem.)

Oregon hasn’t take a comprehensive look at the industry since 1996, and a lot has changed since then. Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) said a review is overdue.

“It’s been 26 years since we last took a real look at gambling in the state,” Courtney said. “We want to know what is and isn’t working. We’ve given the individuals on this committee a big job…gambling has a huge impact on our state.”

The joint committee on gambling will be co-chaired by state Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin (D-Corvallis) and state Rep. John Lively (D-Springfield).

Anna Richter Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribes of Indians, applauded the formation of the committee, which the Cow Creek have sought for two years.

“This is a welcome development,” Richter Taylor says. “We hope this committee can put an end to the partisan conflicts and deliver what Oregonians expect from their government—accountability, transparency and policies that support economic opportunities while protecting public health, and respect tribal sovereignty.”