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Tribes’ competition is the Lottery, not the Flying Lark

Most in Grants Pass are excited about the new entertainment venue called the Flying Lark that is on the verge of opening soon right next to the county fairgrounds. That’s because we know one of our locals, Travis Boersma, successful co-founder of the famous Dutch Bros, will bring the same “Dutch Luv” to this venture and it will be another huge boost for the local economy. Travis and his organizations love this community and he has a well-documented list of extremely generous community donations over the years.

The Flying Lark will also bring well over 200 needed jobs to Grants Pass and help keep horse racing alive in Oregon unless the state of Oregon shuts it down over the next month. Tribes in Oregon seem to have successfully lobbied the governor, the Oregon Racing Commission, and now certain state legislators to kill this project before it even gets off the ground.

The Flying Lark has had to take the unfortunate move to sue the state to make the overdue license decision to have historic racing machines at the facility, similar to what Portland Meadows had for years when it was in operation. The painfully long licensing process has already forced the Flying Lark to issue layoff notices for more than 200 people that already have jobs or job offers.

I know several people that already work there, and one very special young man that has been given a job offer to work there. This young man is a developmentally disabled adult with a range of diagnoses to include moderate mental retardation, autism and epilepsy. This young man also happens to love the local horse races. His mom tells us he interviewed for this job, with some assistance from a job coach, and got the job. Mom says, “When he got the job, he came home sooooo excited. He wanted to call everyone, his grandparents, his aunts, his sisters, my friends, his friends. He was overjoyed by the opportunity to work at the Flying Lark, a place that corresponded to something that he enjoyed.”

The Flying Lark reached out and is employing adults with developmental disabilities in forward-facing, good-paying, meaningful positions that allow them to participate in their community and to engage in life in a manner like their typically developed peers. This is one of the many examples of the “Dutch Luv” brand hard at work, yet again.

That is, unless the tribes have their way.

But this should not be viewed as the tribes against the Flying Lark. The Flying Lark is not much competition for the tribes’ gaming operations. The only real competition for tribal gaming actually comes from the state of Oregon itself. It’s called the Oregon Lottery, and it boasted $1.3 billion in revenues just in the last fiscal year alone. That’s billion, with a B. Fiscal 2021 ended June 30, 2021, was a record year by far for the Oregon Lottery — right in the toughest times for the COVID pandemic. The Oregon Lottery earned 13% more revenue in fiscal 2021 than in 2020.

There are dozens of mini casinos all over Grants Pass and any busy urban area in Oregon. These establishments might prefer to call themselves restaurants or bars, but many of them are also mini casinos. All those video lottery machines you see in restaurants and bars are Oregon Lottery machines, and these establishments just get a cut of the state’s gambling operation. Those video lottery machines, similar to what you find in casinos, make up two-thirds of the revenue of the Oregon Lottery system. And last fiscal year the Oregon Lottery also launched a new mobile sports betting program called Scoreboard.

In the two main Grants Pass zip codes, there are 79 Oregon Lottery retailers, 38 of them with video lottery machines. Put another way, we already have 38 state-operated mini casinos for a population of about 60,000 people in and around Grants Pass. Is one more mini casino-like operation, a 45-minute drive or more to the closest tribal casino, really going to make that much of a difference to the tribes? I don’t think so.

The tribes should turn their attention to the only real competition in Oregon, the behemoth that is the Oregon Lottery. And the tribes should be extremely concerned with the state’s recent move to mobile wagering.

If state officials quickly stop dragging their feet, the Flying Lark will do very “good things” for Grants Pass, but not at the expense of the tribes.

Jay Meredith is a certified public accountant living in Grants Pass.