All of Oregon’s commercial poker rooms could be headed toward closure if the Senate and Gov. Kate Brown sign onto a bill that was passed in the Oregon House last Thursday. HB 2190 (.pdf) which modifies the definition of “social gaming” for purposes of regulation of gambling, passed by a vote of 39-16 with 5 members not voting. The bill was introduced on January 9 and has seen 10 actions now including its move to the Senate President’s desk.
The bill would allow cities and counties such as Portland and Multnomah County, where most of the state’s 20 for-profit rooms are currently in operation, to only allow “social” poker games if they are operated by religious, fraternal or charitable organizations. According to an April 26, 2013 report on oregonlive.com, this is not the first iteration of the bill that anti-gaming lawmakers say would repair social gaming rules that went into effect in the 1980’s and were supposedly never meant to allow poker dens or clubs.
Oregon poker rooms operate with players going after a community pot, unlike casino gaming where player pit themselves against odds or a dealer. The house takes no rake and dealers are only allowed to be paid in tips, which is likely to change whether the bill goes forward or not.
The rooms make money by cover charges, such as a $10 entry fee along with food and drink sales. According to some card room owners, having the clubs open keeps poker from going underground and attracting a bad element. Players today also know they have to behave with certain etiquette or they’ll get bounced and won’t be welcome back.
In addition to the dozen or so poker rooms in Portland, there are another dozen bars and taverns that offer Texas hold ’em tournaments on specific nights. Those games would also come to an end if the law is passed.
An earlier opinion by the Oregon Attorney General determined that social gaming dealers could only be paid in tips but now the Oregon Department of Labor contends they are to be considered employees throwing another wrinkle into the scene and causing Portland city officials to say they would begin enforcing state law on the matter.
HB 2190 defines a social game as “a game, other than a lottery, between players in a private home where no house player, house bank or house odds exist and there is no house income from the operation of the social game.”
It’s currently unclear what sort of appetite the Senate will have for the bill, or if it will even make it out of committee. No committee meetings or floor sessions are currently scheduled for the bill. In its previous life, the 2013 bill was reportedly being promoted by Washington card rooms as an end run to remove nearby competition. PokerAtlas counts 41 poker rooms in Washington.