The OG Gambler 500 Cleans Up… Literally

The Gambler 500 is the most organized, unorganized weekend you can imagine. The entire reason for the thousands of wildly built and decorated cars attending is to pick up trash. To Gambler 500 motto “always be gambling” means to be a proper steward of the land. This year, organizers slotted their OG500 event to take place at an old steel mill in Gilchrist Oregon on June 25-27. The event was supported by eBay Motors, O’reillys, KC HiLites, Heatwave Visual, and a host of others.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Gambler dogs are a big part of any Gambler 500 weekend. Also the tire cover made me laugh.

A Gambler weekend means to explore, make new friends, party responsibly and live the Gambler lifestyle. Most cars sport the letters “ABG” on them which has two meanings. The first is “always be gambling”. The second is “always bag garbage”. Proper stewardship of the land is caring for the land.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

You can see anything at a Gambler weekend gathering from small cars to this huge bus with custom exhaust.

The Gambler 500 also provides another needed boost to this area of Central Oregon. In 2019 alone the estimated economic impact for the area was valued at over $1.1 million. After a forgettable 2020 for most businesses, local shopkeepers, motels, gas station owners and markets welcomed Gamblers with open arms.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Speaking of large vehicles there was more than one limo on hand.

Unprecedented Growth

The Gambler 500 started in 2014 with 14 cars. The next year 28 cars came out. 2016 saw 31 Gamblers. Between 2016 and 2017 a YouTube video went viral resulting in over 800 cars at the 2018 event. From there the numbers rocketed into the thousands. Other areas of the United States, as well as Canada and even Iceland started their own Gambler events.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

On any road you could be passing a fellow Gambler. A thumbs up or a wave is required etiquette.

Tate Morgan, the founder of the Gambler and its battle-cry to “always be gambling” does not charge other organizers for using the Gambler name. As long as the people involved hold the ideals of the gambler lifestyle that is enough for his Oregon based group.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Gambling or not, it is good advice. Especially on the long forestry road leading to Fort Rock.

The basics of being a Gambler.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Any vehicle can get out there and help collect trash from the forest. Even whatever the heck this used to be.

You are trundling along a forest service road and a carelessly discarded water bottle catches your eye. The vehicle stops, out jumps a gambler or two, garbage bags in hand. The water bottle, which would outlive all of us laying there, is now safely scooped up. And so it goes, all weekend, as teams travel the gravel roads of central Oregon looking for fun, friends, adventure and trash. Always be gambling

That is a lot of trash!

How much trash? Morgan has scale records totaling well over one million pounds. In 2019, Gamblers gathered enough trash to fill eight 16 yard dumpsters. Each dumpster can hold three to four thousand pounds of trash. The 2019 haul included 160 tires, two dozen television sets, several camper shells and three boats.

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Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Making friends and having a good time is the benefit of Gambler participation. Here, Team Meatwad from La Pine and Redmond, Oregon, prepare for an adventurous weekend in the woods in their Ford Bronco.

This year, there were several junk cars, at least one boat, a completely trashed fifth wheel trailer and bags of trash piled high and wide. The exact total for 2021 will not be known before this is published.

But wait! There’s more!

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Cole Brewer shows off his more than a little sideways driving style at the HooptieX.

It is against human nature to have this many vehicles gathered in one spot and not have some kind of race. To this end an integral part of the Gambler 500 weekend is the HooptieX event. Patterned after SCCA Rallycross events, this friendly competition, which runs on a closed course, has blossomed into its very own series. HooptieX events now stretch across the United States. For $65 you can run all the laps your vehicle can handle. Fastest lap in class wins.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Tom Erdmann shows that old Swedish iron and its rally bred design is perfect for sending it off the big jump.

There are four classes to choose from. If you have an older, low value car then you can run in either 2WD or AWD classes. Is your car newer with fancy electronics you get to run in the Hater Class. Do you have a fancy side by side or a off road racing buggy, bug or truck? Then you go into Super Soft Class.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

The Isuzu Rodeo of Kip Kipplinger bounced its short wheel base heart out all around the course.

In addition to just the friendly competition there has become a serious rivalry between east and west coast competitors. Both came out to Crescent, Oregon, to duke it out on the grounds of a former steel mill. A twisty course was laid out complete with jumps and bumps and deep silt to power through.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Dwayne Boggie shows off his rear wheel drive V8 power as he power-slides a hairpin turn.

Some teams concentrate on doing both events throughout the weekend, while others are strictly there for the rally style short course event. One thing is evident, whether actually gambling or not, the “always be gambling” lifestyle is evident in both groups.

The jump at HooptieX was great to see everyone send it. The downside was the landings some of them endured.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Always be gambling… even if it means trashing your Mercedes.

The jump of the weekend!

In what many consider the “send of the weekend” this homage to Dale Earnhardt is actually an Infiniti I30. Note to remove the fuse to avoid deploying the air bags!

HooptieX Results: (winner determined by fastest lap time)

2WD Class – Winner, Luke Claughton – Ford Focus 3:45.081. | Second place, CJ Cromwell – Honda CRV 3:47.401. | Third place, Christy Steele – Ford Focus 3:47.789

4WD Class – Winner, John Hall – Jeep Grand Cherokee 3:30.385. | Second place, Talen Carlson – Jeep Grand Cherokee 3:38.626. Third place, Russel Applen – Subaru Impreza 3:43.202.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

John Hall did not do a lot of flying in the air with his Jeep Grand Cherokee. He saved the flying for the corners and took the AWD class win.

Hater Class – Winner, Alex Chadney – Subaru Impreza 3:30.847. | Second place, Jon Moore – Jeep Grand Cherokee 3:31.447.
Third place, Randy Patterson – Propane Jeep 3:36.656

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Zack Carter flew to a second place in the Super Soft Class in his Can Am X3

Super Soft Class – Winner, Robert Bakoczy – Can Am X3 2:59.115 (fastest lap overall). | Second place, Zack Carter – Can Am X3 3:36.194. | Third place, Bailey Tarrant – Polaris RZR 3:35.040.

Tiffany Wickizer went a little too aggressive in her Crown Vic as you may spy a broken left front control arm.

It all starts at the Gilchrist Mall

Two of the more popular rigs caught sitting at registration at the Gilchrist Mall.

Headquarters for the Gamblers is at the Gilchrist Mall. The mall, built in 1939, is the center of the town and so significant to the area it is listed on the State of Oregon’s database of historic sites. This is where registration for the event is, as well as merchandise sales. The mall is home to the Gilchrist Market which supplies and feeds Gamblers all weekend long.

Because you can participate in the Gambler 500 without officially registering getting an exact car count is nearly impossible. Waypoint coordinates are published free of charge. Anyone can drop off roadside debris they collect. If you do not register, you do miss out on a cool swag bag that is more than worth the $40 entry fee.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

I will never look at a Speed Limit sign the same way ever again.

Awesome! What’s a waypoint?

How does one actually do the Gambler 500? The simple answer is, you can make it almost anything you want. The organizers have a saying, “pavement is lava”. The basic premise is to get  outdoors and help clean it up. To that end, Tate Morgan and his crew have laid out waypoints in the form of GPS coordinates.

How you move from one waypoint to another is up to you. Try to avoid as much pavement as possible, after all pavement is lava. Remember that you are a steward of the land and a representative of the event. Stay on trails, follow all laws, pick up trash and be helpful to your fellow Gamblers. Most importantly, always be gambling!

COVID-19 counts Gamblertown as a victim

Camping is the Gambler lifestyle. Preferably in the company of as many of your fellow Gamblers as possible. To this end, in the earliest days of this event Gamblertown was born. To help avoid the pitfalls of large groups and “mob mentality” Morgan and his team have instilled the idea of good stewardship into those that accept that Gambler lifestyle. By counting on responsible Gamblers to self-police themselves and others over the years Gamblertown has been a rowdy, but controlled gathering place.

In this sequence of shots you can see the Mustang of Jacob Shulz. His first landing he caught a hole and he got tossed up into the air again.

In 2020 as COVID-19 enveloped the world and counted millions of victims inadvertently, Gamblertown was one of them. There is great hope that 2022 will see the return of Gamblertown if current COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

The Vehicles

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

What do you bring to a Gambler 500 or a HooptieX? How big is your imagination? One would have to guess that the list of vehicles used in a Gambler 500 would be longer than a list of vehicles not used. Sure, there are trucks and SUVs and VW Bugs, what you might call the obvious choices. No matter what, always be gambling!

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Personal expression through decoration is highly encouraged at the Gambler 500.

The Gambler is for wildly inappropriate vehicles, modified in the most imaginative ways. We are talking stuff that even Walt Disney could not have dreamt up even on narcotics. Still, there are favorites out there. The Ford Crown Victoria, preferably a Police edition (think The Blues Brothers), is a strong base to build off of. You see a lot of Crown Vics.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Dwayne Boggie flew his Lincoln Town Car off the jump to the delight of spectators and photographers alike.

Iffy vehicles make the weekend more fun. According to owners of “iffy” vehicles

Other less sturdy platforms are usually what stand out to the masses. The Geo Metro, the Ford Focus, a variety of Hondas, including a Del Sol. More than a handful of Ford Mustang were spotted.  There was also Volvo, Subaru, a Dodge Diplomat and even some homebuilt vehicles that defy explanation.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Mustangs were wildly popular this year. This one deserves an honorable mention for use of color.

Whatever you can dream up is fair game at a Gambler 500. That is as long as you always be gambling.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Some are simply overwhelmed with the Gambler lifestyle.

Oh the places you will go

Lets say you, your rig, and the people that came with you, all decided to hit every waypoint. To pick the landscape clean of debris from thoughtless non-stewards of the land. Which way would you have gone?

Gambler 500 Limo

Gamblers stopped to help free the Limo beast stuck on the beach!

Waypoint one was in the Christmas Valley Sand Dunes. This leg was also designated as the “Devil’s Butthole” which is what the organizers call the most difficult leg of any Gambler 500. You have the choice to do these or pass. You have the ability to make the Gambler 500 anything you want it to be. Easy, medium, hard, excruciating? It is all there for the taking. Just remember that no matter your path, always be gambling.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Ingenuity is King at the Gambler 500. Note the engine adapted onto this scooter.

It was reported the waypoint at Yamsay Mountain was blocked from a certain direction so not as many made it there. The Hager Mountain Forest Service Lookout Tower was another of the waypoints overlooking Central Oregon from 7,195 feet above sea level. Other waypoints included Fort Rock, China Hat, and La Pine.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Fort Rock served as a waypoint stop for Gamblers.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Team Cheap Jeep (a Honda CRV) made a quick exhaust repair using vice grips, several zip ties and a prayer.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

People like Team Scrabble: John, Jasmine and young Elijah made it a family fun event.

Bigfoot rules in Central Oregon

The Bigfoot Tavern is a mighty popular place during Gambler weekend. Not only because it was a waypoint, it also serves a mean smoked chicken taco. The Tavern served as both a waypoint location and a social hub during the weekend. All the 2021 Gambler 500 GPS waypoints are located here.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Nice homage to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. 42, it is the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

Kevin Carder took a 98 pound Honda Del Sol and built it into a scary fast, high flying HooptieX car.

And in the end, the trash you take is equal to the difference you make

Early reports from the debris collection for the 2021 Gambler 500 are coming in at 380 cubic yards by volume. That is an extraordinary amount of trash collected. Consider also that numbers of teams were down by a third this year. Participating teams stepped up this year. Reports are all Government agencies are tickled with the total.

Organizer Tate Morgan reports that the 2022 OG Gambler 500 will likely run in the same area, but two weeks earlier than usual. The Gambler has a good relationship with the local law enforcement, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The people in charge see the good in what the Gambler brings to Crescent, Gilchrist, and La Pine, Oregon.

If you missed the Original (OG) Gambler at the end of June there are others. In the Pacific Northwest the next one is Washington State on August 7-8, 2021. The event takes place starting in Chehalis. Till than, always be gambling!

Gambler 500/Hooptie X

One anticipated HooptieX entries was this long travel Lamborghini powered entry. It did not run long before breaking something but when it did it was beautiful.

Jeremy Willcots shows how to jump a BMW 525. Extra points for decorating it like a European Police Car.

When jumping always be sure your glass rear window is closed. It may result in shattered glass as seen here.

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About the author

John Elkin

John Elkin was born into an off-roading family. Most vacations were spent exploring Death Valley. Later, John found off-road racing, then rally. His competition career spanned 35 years, mostly navigating. John lives in Vancouver, WA. with his family.
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