Connie Winn, director of the Oregon Racing Commission, stumbled out of the gate this week when questioned in a hearing before the legislative Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development.
Winn presented an update on her agency’s activities and budget Feb. 13 and then asked committee members if they had questions. It was a routine performance similar to ones every agency goes through—until the questions started.
What followed was unusual (see brief video below).
Subcommittee co-chair David Gomberg (D-Otis) asked Winn about her agency’s compliance with 2022 legislation that limited who can bet on dog racing in Oregon.
Gomberg and former Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) passed a bill last year that prohibited online betting hubs that Winn’s agency licenses from accepting bets on dog races from people in states, like Oregon, where dog racing is prohibited. That limits the pool of states from which betting hubs can accept dog racing bets to about 10.
Gomberg wanted to know whether the Racing Commission was following the new law and refusing to allow licensees to accept dog bets from Oregonians. But Winn declined to answer him, citing advice from her agency’s attorney at the Oregon Department of Justice.
A disbelieving Gomberg pressed his point, noting he’d first put the question to Winn in writing Oct. 5 and, despite follow-ups, hadn’t gotten an answer.
She held firm. “I’ve been advised not to comment,” Winn said.
The Racing Commission oversees horse racing in Oregon. It was in the thick of a conflict last year between some of the state’s nine recognized tribes and a company funded by Travis Boersma, the founder of Dutch Bros, over Boersma’s desire to expand racing at Grants Pass Downs and offer betting there on what’s known as historical horse racing. Based on a DOJ legal opinion that the expansion would violate Oregon’s prohibition of off-reservation casinos, Gov. Kate Brown ordered the Racing Commission to reject the Grants Pass expansion. It did so unhappily.
As horse racing dwindles (Portland Meadows closed in 2019, leaving Grants Pass as the state’s only commercial horse track), the commission relies on the licensure of what are called “advanced deposit wagering,” or ADW, companies, which offer betting on horse and dog races all over the world. The ADW companies licensed in Oregon handle a lot of bets—more than $5 billion worth in the first three quarters of 2022.
Winn’s refusal to answer Gomberg’s questions about betting on dogs is in some ways similar to the aggressive stance Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission chair Paul Rosenbaum took defending that embattled agency at a commission meeting Feb. 14.
Gov. Tina Kotek responded to Rosenbaum by demanding his resignation.
A spokeswoman for the DOJ said the agency could not immediately explain why it’s taking so long for the Racing Commission to answer Gomberg’s questions.
Winn declined to comment. Here’s the video: