Machines may bring younger crowd to Portland racetrack

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PORTLAND — Even the old-timers, the die-hards, worry that horse racing in Oregon may be rounding its final corner.

"The real horse player is a dying breed," says Wallace Sanders, as he sits at a table inside Portland Meadows, a stack of thumbed-over racing forms in front of him.

On Saturday, the retired postal worker and about two dozen others are scattered around the cavernous clubhouse, waiting for races to begin in Florida and other distant tracks.

Off-track-betting, where players wager on live, televised races from around the country, is one way Portland's venerable racetrack has been able to keep its doors open most of the year. But the crowds that once showed for live racing during the summer have thinned and managers are looking for ways to bring more to the sport, a $150 million industry in Oregon.

The latest gambit: machines that allow people to bet on historic races just as they would a live race. Sometimes called instant racing machines, they have been successful at tracks in Arkansas and Kentucky.

An experiment with them in Oregon several years ago ended when they were deemed illegal by the state attorney general. Now the machines could return to Portland Meadows if the state Legislature agrees to give them another shot.

Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, has introduced a bill that would allow the financially struggling racetrack to install the machines in the hopes of bringing in more people and more revenue.