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GP Downs cancels upcoming race meet

Twenty-seven days prior to the spring-summer meet was to begin at Grants Pass Downs, owner Travis Boersma announced that the local horse racing track will not be conducting its 2022 race meet as planned.

Citing the denial of an operation license for gaming machines at The Flying Lark — a 35,000-square-foot entertainment center next to the track — Boersma said in a media release late Tuesday night that the upcoming 19-day commercial race meet had been canceled.

“As a result of the Oregon Racing Commission’s vote to deny an operating license to The Flying Lark, Grants Pass Downs has lost its economic engine,” Boersma said in a release. “While we remained hopeful we would be able to host a viable race meet, the uncertainty here and across the industry has resulted in a drastic reduction of race horses at Grants Pass Downs. At this point, it’s clear running the meet isn’t feasible.”

In February, the Oregon Department of Justice ruled that the 225 Historic Horse Racing (HHR) terminals planned for the Flying Lark differ from live horse racing, and therefore the facility “would constitute a prohibited casino” and not comply with Oregon law.

“After reviewing the features and designs of the HHRs proposed by (The Flying Lark parent company and Grants Pass Downs leaseholder) TMB Racing, we determine the machines are games of chance that do not afford players any meaningful opportunity to exercise skill,” according to the opinion sought by the Oregon Racing Commission.

Disappointed by the DOJ ruling, Boersma initially suggested that he would personally fund the spring, summer and fall 2022 race meets, according to GPD chief racing officer Randy Evers on the track’s website, but that will not be the case following Tuesday’s decision.

Located at the Josephine County Fairgrounds, Grants Pass Downs has hosted live pari-mutuel horse racing since 1968. GP Downs became privately funded in 2019 by Boersma, co-founder of Dutch Bros. Coffee.

The track, race meet and purses were intended to be funded by profits from The Flying Lark entertainment venue, according to Tuesday’s release, which also noted that the cancellation of the race meet will lead to the elimination of approximately 50 jobs during the racing season. Employees and on-site horsemen and horsewomen were notified of the decision Tuesday.

“Saving horse racing in Oregon has always been one of my top priorities,” Boersma said in the release. “Moving forward, it’s my sincere hope the horsemen’s associations, private investors and the state can come together to find a path to continuing this sport.”

HHR machines use cabinets similar to slot machines and allow people to bet on recordings of horse races. According to the opinion issued by Oregon DOJ Chief Counsel of the General Counsel Division Renee Stineman, the machines give the player limited time and information to make bets, and players do not know which race they are betting on, the names of the horses, trainers or jockeys.

“In fact, the player is not even shown the day-of-race odds; rather, the machine has internal access to that data and ranks the horses for the player,” Stineman writes in the opinion.

The Oregon Racing Commission sought the Department of Justice’s opinion before making a decision on whether to authorize the terminals made by Ainsworth Game Technology, Konami Gaming, PariMAX Holdings and Castle Hill Gaming.

The DOJ stated it considered that the Flying Lark has other features, such as a restaurant, bar and office space, but the dominant purpose of the facility “is clearly gambling.”

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Jockeys maneuver down the track during last year’s Fourth of July horse racing at Grants Pass Downs.