Here’s something: the Oregon Lottery doesn’t like gambling.
Oh wait, let me edit that. The Oregon Lottery doesn’t like gambling when it is not the one making money off of it. According to the Willamette Week, the Oregon Lottery and the Portland Meadows Racetrack continue to be at odds regarding the racetrack’s popular poker room.
As my colleague Earl Burton has previously written, poker room’s in Portland have been doing quite well over the last decade. The first didn’t open until 2007, but at their peak, there were about two dozen poker rooms through the city. There are only a baker’s dozen now, as lawmakers have cracked down on them, largely because of pressure from competing gaming influences such as tribal casinos.
Earlier this year, the Oregon House passed a bill that would officially shut down the Portland poker room industry, but the Senate did not. The Senate Committee on General Government and Accountability wanted to try to come up with a different solution, though that solution would not be good for the poker rooms.
Portland poker rooms are not permitted to take a rake from the tables, so instead they require players to pay an “entry fee” in order to play. It is essentially a cover charge to access the premises and the games, just like one might pay to gain entry to a popular night club. Paying for entertainment. Sounds reasonable.
The Senate committee, though, wanted the poker rooms to drop that fee, requiring them to lean solely on the sale of food and drink for their revenue. A poker room that generates no revenue from poker doesn’t sound like a poker room with a long life span. The committee also wanted the poker rooms to get rid of dealers and instead of the players deal their own games. The poker rooms are not permitted to pay the dealers as it is; the dealers rely on tips from the players. Naturally, the poker rooms are not amenable to player dealing, as it makes cheating more likely. Plus, full-time dealers are going to run the games a lot better.
That takes us back to the Oregon Lottery and Portland Meadows. After Oregon State Police investigators determined that the racetrack’s poker room violated state and local gambling laws in July, the Oregon Lottery cancelled its contract with Portland Meadows that permitted the venue to have ten lottery terminals. These terminals generated almost $350,000 for Portland Meadows in 2016 and $1.83 million for the state of Oregon.
Specifically, the Lottery said that Portland Meadows was violating the law by having “designated dealers” and taking a house fee only from poker players, not from guests who were not going to play (the cover charge was only $15). Additionally, apparently city law states that nobody may bet more than $1 in a game. Seeing that this is a proper poker room, clearly there were bets larger than $1 being made. The Lottery also believes that Portland Meadows violates the prohibition of serving as a “house bank” because it collects buy-ins for tournaments, effectively holding players’ money in exchange for chips.
The racetrack asked the Lottery to reconsider its action, but the Lottery refused, issuing a letter on August 30th giving Portland Meadows 60 days to file a petition for judicial review, if it so chooses.