Portland Meadows Could Lose Cash Cow Lottery Terminals if Poker Room Doesn’t Change

September 28th, 2017 | by Brian Corlisse

The Portland Meadows racetrack, is facing a new deadline in its ongoing battle with Oregon Lottery officials, who are continuing an effort to dismantle the city’s poker scene, claiming the largest poker room in the state’s no-rake social tournaments are violating the law.

Portland Meadows Poker Room

Authorities contend tournaments at Portland Meadows Poker Room flout state law on Oregon’s social gaming constructs. (Image: Willamette Week)

In a certified letter delivered to Portland Meadows management last week, Lottery Director Barry Pack gave the track until Oct. 30 to change its poker operations to comply with state law or risk losing its lucrative contract with the lottery.

The track is currently home to 10 video lottery terminals (VLTs). These slot-machine style gaming machines generated $1.83 million in revenue for the state and nearly $350,000 for the racetrack.

Unusual Poker Laws

Oregon gaming laws are unique. Only social gaming is allowed on non-tribal lands, a designation intended to permit church bingo games and Elks club casino nights, for example. But in 2008, Portland decided to license and regulate poker as a city.

Portland currently has nearly 20 poker rooms, with Portland Meadows and its 22 tables being the biggest.

The rules that made it possible under state law limited bets to $1, and specifically prohibited employing professional dealers.

Portland sent a letter in July 2016 to all licensees reminding them that professional dealers were not allowed. All players had to deal on a rotating basis, like a true home game, remain in compliance with city statutes and the state’s social gaming law.

The poker room insists they meet Oregon’s social gaming requirements because they don’t take a rake, charging instead a $15 cover charge for players, while making money from food and beverage sales. They also contend dealers aren’t employees, but contract volunteers working for tips.

However, complaints from dealers to Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries are what brought the matter to the attention of other state authorities.

Undercover Investigation

The letter from Oregon Lottery officials reported findings from three undercover investigations that authorities claim unearthed multiple violations of state and local gambling statutes. Portland Meadows contends all allegations have already been resolved or are being inaccurately represented by the Lottery.

Lottery officials say nonsense, that dealers were professional card slingers, and games ran with blatant disregard to betting limits.

“Specifically, the detectives observed single raises of $350 during a hand; average raises between $10 and $20, and bets exceeding the city’s limit of $1 per person, per hand,” the lottery director’s letter stated. Portland poker room operators contend this is a misinterpretation of the statute, which since 2008 has allowed no-limit hold’em tournaments to be played so long as there’s no rake.

Pack’s letter provided other examples of violations, such as “tips being provided to dealers, players being discouraged from dealing, and the house acting as a bank by holding buy-ins and converting cash to chips.”

Portland Meadows has until Oct. 30 to either show the place to be in full compliance with state laws, appeal the contract cancellation in state court, or simply give up its lottery terminals.

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