Dutch Bros co-founder takes Oregon Racing Commission to court

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Last week many news outlets ran a story from the Associated Press that left readers with a possible mischaracterization of a court action under taken by TMB Racing against the State of Oregon over it’s new The Flying Lark entertainment venue associated with Grants Pass Downs.

TMB Racing’s CEO Travis Boersma, who alongside his late brother Dane, co-founded Dutch Bros in Grants Pass back in 1992. Dane (Boersma) passed away from ALS in 2009.

While many other media outlets simply said that TMB (and Boersma) were “suing” the state, NW Horse Report dug into the actual legal filing for more details, discovering that their court action was no more than a “petition” for a “Motion to Compel Agency To Act”, sometimes referred to and known as a Writ of Mandamus. The action was filed in Josephine County by attorney J. Matthew Donohue with Holland & Knight LLP, a Portland based law firm representing Boersma’s company, TMB Racing.

The action stems over the Oregon Racing Commissions’ delay related to the approval of it’s historical horse racing wagering machines, a delay which the petition characterized as “unreasonable in light of the circumstances”. Oregon Governor Kate Brown recently told the Oregon Racing Commission in November to slow down the process following complaints from several Oregon tribal governments. The tribes allege that such machines no longer met the statutory definition of parimutuel betting in which bettors wager against one another, but instead are a wager against the house.

A 2013 law was passed by the Oregon legislature that allows commercial horse tracks to offer betting on the historical horse racing machines. The same machines had been previously used at Portland Meadows which shuttered in December of 2019.

Randy Evers, Chief Racing Officer for Grants Pass Downs which is part of TMB Racing, told NW Horse Report that the legal action was not “what most may immediately think when the word lawsuit is thrown around”. Evers explained that Boersma has invested heavily into the Downs and the community of Grant’s Pass, despite tough economic times in one of the hardest hit areas of Oregon.

A concept image of The Flying Lark prior to it’s actual construction, although it is now mostly completed. The facility is a 35,000 sq ft dining and entertainment venue being opened by Dutch Bros co-founder Travis Boersma.

“The Flying Lark is a critical part at ensuring the long term viability of horse racing in Oregon” said Evers. He further went on to explain that the tribes did not take the same action when the machines were used at Portland Meadows.

A statement by Boersma provided to NW Horse Report stated in part, “Over the course of the last few years, I’ve worked with a team of dedicated experts to revive Grants Pass Downs and build The Flying Lark, a premier restaurant, horse racing, and gaming center. These projects have provided hundreds of living wage jobs, supported seasonal workers and created opportunities for people of all ages in the community.”

Boersma continued, “Through the entire process, I’ve made it a priority to meet and work with Oregon’s tribal leaders. It is my hope that tribal leaders will once again come back to the table to identify ways in which we can work together. Until then, our team has made it clear we will continue to work to provide jobs and support the economy while following all laws and guidance.”

Evers further detailed that the racing commission was supposed to take up matters again in November. Jack McGrail, Executive Director for the Oregon Racing Commission, told Willamette Week that his commission would defer the scheduled Nov. 18th agenda item on The Flying Lark. It appears the commission also cancelled it’s December meeting. Minutes for its November meeting have yet to be posted online.

“The petition is not a lawsuit that is seeking money from the State and taxpayers, it’s simple goal is to require that the Oregon Racing Commission move forward in a reasonable manner so we can take care of the many countless employees who are currently training in their new roles with The Flying Lark.” said Evers.

A request for comment placed last week to McGrail with the racing commission was not returned before press time. Calls places with several Oregon tribal governments also went without comment.

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