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Man Turns Race into Land Cleanup Movement

When Tate Morgan initially conceived of the event now known as the Gambler 500, it was nothing like what it is now. Back in 2014, Morgan had an idea for he and several friends to stage an informal race out in the woods with cheap cars. He figured that racing 500 miles around the Mount Hood wilderness in $500 cars would be a fun way to spend a weekend. Morgan said explaining the name, “It’s a gamble if you’re going to make it, it’s a gamble which way you’re going to go. It’s never a gamble if you’re going to have fun.”

But in 2016, it quickly threatened to spiral out of control. After a video from the event got 10 million views on Facebook, Morgan was inundated with requests from people to join. Law enforcement thought the Gambler 500 was a ring of racing outlaws, and Morgan was threatened with felonies if he didn’t shut the event down.

Still, the attention came at a time when Morgan needed a distraction. He’d recently quit his job after receiving a cancer diagnosis, and wanted to be intentional about spending time with friends and family. “What the heck,” he thought. “What happens if we just decide to let everybody come?”

So as a way of turning the event legit, he decided to turn it into a massive land clean-up. This year participants collected abandoned boats, hot tubs, burned hulks of cars, bags of household garbage, and a literal kitchen sink. By the end of the day, Gamblers had filled five large metal bins with trash.

Morgan now works full-time doing Gambler events, coordinating between the Bureau of Land Management and various partner organizations. Not only does the location change each year, but the attention on the original Gambler 500 has led to similar events all around the world. Morgan allows other groups to use the Gambler name as long as they don’t make any money from the event and adhere to the central tenets of the event--have fun racing, be inclusive, and rally people to help clean-up the area. And now all these years later, he has no regrets. “Six years later, I am cancer free, and we have thousands of people out here.”

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