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Portland Poker Room Still Under Fire from State

Portland
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  • Poker remains under fire in Oregon, with the state lottery pulling funding from Portland Meadows.

About a year after Portland's poker clubs first came under state scrutiny, the state lottery has fired the latest round in the battle by informing Portland Meadows that its video lottery license will be pulled effective Oct. 30, Willamette Week reported Tuesday.

Portland Meadows currently operates the largest video lottery terminal offering in the state, with 10 terminals that produced $1.83 million in revenue for the state and $350,000 for Portland Meadows last year, Week reported. However, Oregon Lottery canceled that contract on the premise that the poker games offered at Portland Meadows violate state law.

Portland Meadows asked the Lottery to reconsider but has apparently been rebuffed and slapped with the Oct. 30 deadline.

It's the continuation of a battle that's been going on for over a year between Portland poker rooms and state authorities.

Player Havens Come Under State Scrutiny

As recently as last year, Portland was a haven for poker players, with rake-free games offered at a variety of establishments that were officially social gaming clubs but unofficially card rooms that skirted around state law via a variety of creative means.

For example, the clubs charged covers rather than rake to get around laws that establishments couldn't directly profit from the games — "social gaming" is allowed via a 1973 state law. Professional dealers couldn't pitch cards because of state law, so they worked in an unofficial capacity for tips.

And cash games were disguised as "shootouts" — one-hour chip chop tournaments that skirted rules disallowing bets of more than $1.

All of it added up to rake-free cash games and tournaments that awarded thousands of dollars in prize money.

The good times didn't last, however, as state authorities cracked down in 2016. A number of popular poker clubs closed, while Portland Meadows appears to have rolled on despite the unfavorable rulings.

Meadows the Latest Target

Portland Meadows offers gaming entertainment in a variety of forms, including live horse racing, off-track betting, video lottery terminals and poker. It promotes the poker room via its website and social media, advertising $1/2 cash games and tournaments with guarantees between $1,000 and $10,000.

It appears the state, though, hasn't given up.

In a letter dated Aug. 30 responding to Portland Meadows' request for reconsideration, the Oregon Lottery fires a number of assertions charging Portland Meadows with continued defiance of state law. Among them:

  • In January 2017, an undercover detective observed "casino-style card tables" that did not feature the deal rotating among the players.
  • Players were winning up to $2,300 in a single hand, in violation of the $1 rule.
  • Players had been instructed by staff to tip the dealers, while players were discouraged from dealing.
  • The house acting as a bank, a direct violation of state law.

Portland Meadows has disputed some of these charges in legal battles and maintained that it is in compliance with state law. However, officials for Oregon Lottery apparently disagree, as they laid out in the letter.

First, they said the cover charge violates the state law on "house income." Second, that holding players' money, even when it gets redistributed, violates the prohibition on a "house bank."

Therefore, the letter states, they can terminate the contract allowing the lottery terminals because of "apparent threat to the fairness, integrity, security, or honesty of the lottery" based on the retailer, in this case Portland Meadows.

Facing a major loss of revenue, Portland Meadows now looks to have a month to make the next move as poker continues to be under threat in Oregon.

Photo courtesy of Stephan Zabel/freeimages.com

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