A bill that would amend Oregon poker laws to ban the “for profit” industry that has sprung up has passed through the Oregon House of Representatives and now is waiting for the Oregon Senate’s review and vote.
The legislation that would ban Portland poker rooms, known as HB 2190, passed through the House by a prohibitive majority of 39-16. In that legislation, the current laws would be amended to state that only “social” poker games could be conducted and that those gatherings would have to be “operated and controlled by a charitable, fraternal or religious organization” such as the American Legion or Knights of Columbus groups. At this time, Portland is home to a thriving, for-profit industry, with 13 poker rooms that exist in the city limits for the past decade and another seven that are within the county.
Over the past year, the focus of law enforcement has been on the Portland poker scene, looking for violations of the law as it is currently written. Several of the most popular outlets have been targeted by Portland police for employing dealers – the games are supposed to be self-dealt – and, once they were found to be in violation of the law, were fined significant amounts of money and closure for up to two weeks. The new bill, if implemented into law, would completely remove these types of businesses.
When the Oregon legislature passed gaming regulations back in 1973, poker was allowed as “social gaming” in businesses and private clubs. Although there are regulations prohibiting “gambling” in the state of Oregon and after several challenges to the way the law was written, Portland became a thriving hub of poker rooms. Those rooms, however, didn’t open until 2007, and they have become an integral industry in the city.
Now, however, there are opponents that would like to see Oregon (and particularly Portland) tighten up those laws. In the state of Oregon, Indian tribes operate eight different casinos, including the Klamath Tribe, the Coquille Indian Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Those casinos are losing about $10-$15 million per year to the Portland poker room industry and, with a strict law stating that only certain organizations can offer poker events, would stand to recoup a great deal of that money.
The tribal casinos aren’t just talking a big game, they are putting the money up to take in the patrons of the Portland scene. In La Center, WA (about 20 miles north of Portland), the Cowlitz Tribe opened Ilani Casino, a state-of-the-art casino in late April. Consisting of 378,000 square feet of entertainment and gaming space (including 2500 slot machines and 75 table games and a 20-table poker room, according to the World Casino Directory. The new casino is expected to draw in 4.5 million visitors per year, employ 1200 people and bring in $200 million annually in revenues.
Currently there are no efforts in the Senate regarding the Portland poker rooms, which has saved the industry in the past. There have been efforts for the past four years to close the poker rooms in Portland, but every year they have died due to no corresponding bill to reconcile and send to the governor. Current Governor Kate Brown‘s position on the subject of Portland’s poker rooms and/or the Oregon casino industry aren’t known should a bill come to her desk.
For now, the Portland poker scene is still in existence. The rooms are abiding by the laws as they are written – not charging a rake on players (the players instead pay a fee to play), not paying the dealers (the dealers are tipped) and making their revenues through food and drink sales. Should the Oregon Senate come up with legislation – and should it be reconciled with the already-passed House version of the bill – then the tension regarding the future of Portland poker rooms will ramp up.