It’s not often poker players have to fight to keep their right to play. But that’s what happened in Oregon over the first half of 2017
Oregon and poker rooms, under fire
Earlier in the year, a bill (H 2190) that would make for-profit poker rooms illegal in Oregon was introduced in the legislature, and it was approved by the state House of Representatives by a 39-16 margin.
Oregon has a small but vibrant card room industry for poker games, especially in the Portland area. Usually players pay to get into the poker room, and rake is not charged on hands played. Dealers are volunteers or are one of the players in the game. That, obviously, makes it very different from regulated gaming and poker in almost any other jurisdiction in the US.
I actually attended a hearing in a House committee in Oregon in which the poker bill was discussed, although I was there to listen to discussion on daily fantasy sports legislation. (Those bills have gone nowhere, so far.)
At that hearing, card-room operators and players turned out to plea with lawmakers not to ban the poker rooms. That advocacy may have had some impact, as the brakes appear to have been pumped in the Senate.
What’s next for Oregon poker?
Advocates for Oregon poker rooms said that the bill was dead and tat committee members indicated it would not be sent to the Senate floor. But it was not technically voted down and remains an active piece of legislation according to the statehouse website. There is about a month left in the legislative session.
A solution that appears to have been floated is to stop the practice of charging an entry fee for poker rooms. The Senate Committee On General Government and Accountability put forth an amendment on May 31 that would stop poker rooms from getting any money from the poker rooms themselves.
Here’s the language:
“(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;
But the amendment goes on to make it explicitly legal to continue to offer food and drink:
“(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.
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Would the changed bill save Oregon poker rooms?
Charging an entry fee, of course, is how Oregon poker rooms make some — or a lot — of their money.
The rooms that have full bars and dining options already may be able to weather a potential change. But the rooms that emphasize the poker and not the amenities may have to change their business model, or increase the available amenities.
Anyway, right now, it appears Oregon poker rooms will survive as they currently operate, if the bill is truly dead. But after the progress on the bill this year, it remains a possibility for action in the future.
Image credit: Joshua Rainey Photography / Shutterstock.com