Friday September 29, 2017 at 5:08 pm
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The city of Portland is battling with the state of Oregon over the legality of its poker rooms. The city allowed “cover charges” for poker rooms who skirted around the no-rake laws. The Oregon Lottery, which handles all gaming in the state of Oregon, stated that the largest room in Portland, the Portland Meadows, has until end of October to cease operations, or figure out a legal alternative. Otherwise, poker rooms in Portland are only a month away from closing its doors.

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Portland, Oregon is a sleepy city in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle blew up during the 1990s due to the grunge music explosion and then the city experienced another upshot during the tech boom in the 00s. However, Portland, approximately 2.5 hours south of Seattle, remained under the radar until most recently. The migration of hipsters from NoCal seeking cheaper rents and a better quality of life boosted the city's bougie vibe over the last decade. The popular TV program Portlandia repeatedly poked fun at the hipster capital of America.

All hipsters aside, I bet you didn't know that Portland and the state of Oregon has a poker battle heating up. The city of Portland had dozen or so poker rooms that were categorized as social gaming clubs, but that number dipped to 5 or 6 due to pressure from the state's gaming authority otherwise knowns as the Oregon Lottery. So long as these card rooms didn't take a rake, they could remain in operation. The city of Portland was cool with poker, but the state thru the Lottery said otherwise. The Portland Meadows race track is facing a tough dilemma. Their 22-table room, the largest in the city and state, is under fire. The gaming authorities at the Oregon Lottery are giving the Meadows until October 30th to figure out this sketchy grey area.

The current laws prohibit any card rooms from making a profit through rake, so many poker rooms in Portland did an end around the issue by charging a flat-fee or “cover charge” to enter the establishment. These rooms claim their income is derived mostly from food and beverages. There's also a weird law about prohibiting dealers from actually pitching cards for a salary, so dealers can only earn a wage via tips. The Oregon Lottery, which overseas gaming in the state, said that the establishments in Portland are violating state laws. As a punitive measure, the State Lottery canceled their contract and pulled 10 lottery machines from Portland Meadows in July. Apparently, those lottery machines generated $350,000 in income during the 2016 fiscal year.

According to Willamette Week, "The cancellation came after Oregon State Police investigators found Meadows' poker games appeared to violate state and local gambling laws." Simply put, the state is calling out the city on its angleshooting and re-interpretation of existing state gaming laws.

The Meadows asked the state to reinstate their lottery machines, but not only did the Oregon Lottery stick with their original decision, but they also issued the Meadows a deadline to cease all poker operations. The state still stands by their assertion that the Meadows' poker room violates state gaming laws, so the Meadows has until the end of October to fix the issue. To me that means… shut your doors, or figure out some fancy legal maneuvering.

The Portland Meadows is a widely popular hotbed for poker with a 22-table room, which was the largest in the city and the entire state. The Meadows charged players a $15 daily membership fee instead of a rake. The Meadows also host daily tournaments (with 100% of prize pool going to players) and $1/$2 NL and $2/$5 NL cash games with a $100 min buy-in and no max. The room was not 24 hours, but operated from noon to 2AM.

The state of Oregon licensed several casinos on Native American reservations. Those poker rooms are in compliance, but none of them are located within Portland city limits. Those rooms also have anywhere from 2 to 7 tables.

In 2013, a bill got introduced that would outlaw all poker rooms in the state of Oregon, but it never gained any traction. The bulk of support of the bill came from casinos in neighboring Washington state. Alas, it never materialized.

The Portland Meadows racetrack opened in 1946. In the last decade or so, income generate from the horse racing industry has seriously diminished as that generation of horseracing enthusiasts die off. Like many other racetracks in America, the Meadows had to look to other streams of gambling to make up for lost income. The lottery machines and poker room were viable financial avenues for the Meadows until the Oregon Lottery stepped in. Stay tuned for more developments.

In the meantime, here's some Portlandia schtick…

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