Bill Regarding Closure of Oregon Poker Rooms Under Debate

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A bill that would shut down social poker rooms in Oregon had its preliminary debates earlier this week, with both sides of the situation showing up in force to discuss that legislation.

The Oregonian’s Harry Esteve, who originally wrote about the proposed legislation in April, states that the sponsor of the bill, Republican Representative Julie Parrish, continued to push for the bill to pass while players and business owners said that the poker rooms are a safe place for some social poker play. In April, Parrish compared the card rooms to “hookah lounges” and proposed the legislation, House Bill 3518, which would limit poker to only religious, fraternal and charitable organizations.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Parrish didn’t back down from her previous comments. “The majority of poker operations in Oregon are operating outside of social gaming statutes,” she contended, and she was supported by Aaron Knott, the legislative director for the Oregon Department of Justice. Noting that the poker rooms cannot earn any income from the games (just sales of food and beverages), Esteve quotes Knott as saying, “They cannot act as banker, handle chips, or cash you in and out.” Representative Chris Garrett, who led the hearing on the bill, directly questioned Knott on his opinion, with Knott eventually acquiescing that there is a level of “ambiguity” to the current laws on the books.

A lobbyist for poker rooms was on hand for the hearing. Representing several club owners, Geoff Sugarman pointed out that the businesses in question are upstanding members of the community. “These folks are not felons,” Sugarman is quoted by Esteve. “They have never been raided, shut down or even cited” for any violations of the law, he said. In fact, Sugarman told the hearing that the clubs in question have gone to great lengths to keep their rooms in excellent legal standing.

Sugarman did admit that the laws regarding the Oregon poker scene, which were established in the 1970s, do need some updating, however. He suggested that the Oregon legislature look at those laws and update them next year instead of punishing the owners of those clubs now by enacting Parrish’s bill. “We should be applauding and helping their entrepreneurial spirit, not trying to shut them down,” Esteve quotes Sugarman.

It does appear that the big question is, of course, money. Some bingo hall operators appeared at the hearing in support of the Parrish bill, stating that they lose revenues to the poker rooms around the state. Tom Rask, an attorney from nearby LaCenter, Washington, that represents the card rooms there, also sided with Parrish on the issue, saying “What you have now are illegal gaming facilities.”

The respondents on The Oregonian website have made their feelings known, with a significant number of them siding with the poker rooms. “Parrish makes me feel embarrassed to be a life-long Republican,” one poster commented. “Whatever happened to individual freedoms and responsibility?” Another poster pointed out that, instead of going to casinos in the state of Washington to play, he preferred going to the Oregon poker rooms. “The atmosphere in the clubs is friendlier, they hold more tournaments and, most of all, it saves me a ton of money,” he stated while admitting if the bill passed he would “go underground” with the games that will continue.

Others also chided Parrish for trying to defend those interests in the state of Washington while throwing her own Oregon constituents under the bus by closing the poker clubs there.

While it isn’t known if Parrish’s bill will make it to a vote on the floor of the Oregon legislature before the end of its current session (the 2013 calendar will conclude in August), Garrett seemed to strike a conciliatory tone with both sides. “We have a regulatory concern that needs to be addressed, (but) I don’t think shutting down the clubs is anyone’s wish,” Esteve quotes Garrett as saying as the hearing closed.

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