Off The Wall: Oregon Poker Room Bill Would Require Players To Self-Deal Games

A proposed amendment to Oregon’s anti-poker room bill being discussed in Salem could deal a serious blow to the vibrant poker scene in Portland.

Under the amendments proposed late last month, players in any of the state’s nearly two dozen rooms would be required to self-deal as if it were a home game. In other words, no permanent dealers would be permitted. Instead, whoever has the button would be the dealer.

“If the game involves a dealer, the role of dealer must be assumed in turn by each player in the social game,” a line in the amendment reads. Anyone who plays poker for money will know that having the deck rotate around the table can not only slow the game down but also potentially compromise the integrity of the game.

An earlier version of the legislation sought to ban for-profit poker rooms entirely, instead giving the exclusive right to host poker to charitable, fraternal and religious organizations. However, some state Senators thought such a plan was too drastic.

The watered down bill would still allow rooms to make a profit, but it would almost surely hurt their businesses. The bill would also prohibit rooms from charging a cover fee, which historically has been a key part of the business models. The rooms already do not take any rake, as Oregon’s constitution has a prohibition on non-tribal casinos.

The legislation would still allow the sale of food and drinks.

Rooms could face a $1,000 fine for each violation of the bill’s provisions.

The legislation, which was introduced in early January, easily passed the House in April. According to the political action committee Save Oregon Poker, casinos in Washington State have been behind legislation to effectively end poker in Portland.

For years the rooms have used non-waged dealers who make their money from tips. That was thanks to the state’s Attorney General saying in 2010 that dealers cannot earn a wage. However, the Oregon Department of Labor eventually said that they should be employees, rather than volunteers. The contradiction created by state officials put the games under the microscope again last year.

In August, Portland suggested that rooms should have players deal the games themselves.

Around 200 dealers were working in the Portland poker industry as of last fall, and they typically earned $14 an hour, according to Save Oregon Poker.

Poker clubs in rural Oregon already have players self-deal, but that works better there because those are tight-nit communities where players typically know one another.

The largest poker room in the Portland area is Portland Meadows with 22 tables, which charges a $15 daily membership fee to play in its games.


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