A couple weeks ago, my colleague, the esteemed Earl Burton, wrote about the Oregon State Senate’s discussion of ways to permit Portland poker rooms to keep operating, even after the House passed a bill – by a 39 to 16 vote – which would shut them down. Last week, the Senate Committee on General Government and Accountability proposed an amendment to HB 2190 that formally delineated these ideas.
As it stands now, Portland poker rooms do not take a rake, but they do typically charge a fee to enter the venue, similar to how a bar or jazz club might implement a cover charge. The Senate Committee’s amendment would make it illegal to charge such a fee.
Here, see for yourself. From the amendment:
“(c) An entity, other than a charitable, fraternal or religious organization, may not:
“(A) Charge an admission or similar fee related to the social game; or
“(B) Engage in any organizational activity related to a social game, including but not limited to offering for rent any equipment or space for the conduct or play of a social game.
“(3) Subsection (2) of this section does not prohibit a private business operated for profit from charging for food or beverages provided by the business during the course of a social game conducted or played at a premises operated by the business if:
“(a) The social game is incidental; and
“(b) The business is not involved in the organization of the social game, except to advertise or promote the occurrence of the social game.
Since the Portland poker rooms don’t take a rake and should this bill go through, they wouldn’t be able to charge any sort of fees, how would they be able to make money and thus sustain themselves? As you can see, the Committee’s proposed answer is to permit poker rooms to charge money for food and drinks.
This, to some extent, makes sense, and is a formula used in many other industries. There are certainly problems with this setup, though. Food and drink sales for a poker room are probably not as predictable as they would be for a restaurant. Poker players don’t always want to eat while playing and who knows how many drinks can be sold on a given night? Additionally, some poker rooms won’t be well-equipped to make and serve food and drinks and would thus either have to risk not selling much or spend a bunch of money to be able to ramp up their dining.
The subpoints – that the poker game is incidental to the food and beverage sales and that the business is not involved in the organization of the game – likely wouldn’t be all that hard to get around. Everyone would know that the poker games are the main attraction, so while it is possible that law enforcement would crack down, I would doubt they would. It would also be easy enough to pay someone to run the games so that the venue isn’t specifically organizing anything.