GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Justice has issued an advisory that slot machines planned for an entertainment center next to the Grants Pass Downs racetrack constitute a casino that would violate the Constitution from Oregon.

The Justice Department ruled on Friday that the machines are games of chance and “provide players with no meaningful opportunity to practice their skills,” The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Dutch Bros Coffee co-founder Travis Boersma previously said he spent $50 million to renovate the race track in southern Oregon and the Flying Lark entertainment center next door. The facility is centered around 225 slot machines.


“I remain committed to saving horse racing in Oregon, providing family jobs in southern Oregon, and working closely with tribal leaders to ensure that all Oregonians benefit from the opening of The Flying Lark,” Boersma said in a written statement.

The Oregon Racing Commission, a state agency, will make the final decision on Boersma’s bid.

“I believe the Oregon Racing Commission is acting in good faith and the process will ultimately reveal The Flying Lark to be a legal business,” Boersma added.

Until this fall, approval seemed likely by the commission, which made no secret of its enthusiasm for the new facility. It’s been an agency without a portfolio since the Portland Meadows race track closed in 2018.

But opponents of the plan — including most Native American tribes in Oregon — organized and lobbied against it. Governor Kate Brown has ordered the racing commission to withhold approval of Boersma’s plan until she gets a legal opinion from the Justice Department.

Anthony Broadman, attorney for the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians, said the opinion was an important validation for the tribes.

“What we saw today is that the DOJ finally agrees with what the tribes have been saying for 10 years,” he said. “We have seen the rapid proliferation of state-sanctioned gambling without a corresponding increase in state ability to oversee it.”

The tribes sought to protect their franchise as operators of the state’s only full-service casinos. The state lottery and the advent of digital internet gambling have eroded this franchise. The Flying Lark posed a new threat – what they saw as a private casino operated on non-tribal land.

Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, said the language of opinion leaves room for compromise. If the machines are changed to be more knowledge- and skill-based, they could be considered legal bets, he said.

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