Portland Meadows Poker “Door Fee” Violated Oregon’s Gambling Laws
Over 20 poker clubs in Oregon are now at risk of being closed after the state’s Court of Appeals upheld a 2018 ruling stating that a non-tribal poker room violated Oregon’s gaming laws.
The legal battle dates back to 2017 when the Oregon Lottery launched an investigation into Oregon Racing Inc’s poker operations at the Portland Meadows racetrack. The Oregon Lottery, which supervises gaming operations in the state, initially ruled in 2018 that Oregon Racing’s running of poker games was illegal.
Oregon Racing generated “house income” from poker games by charging a $15 entry fee to its poker customers. It was also found out that the poker room exchanged chips for money. Both of these were in violation of Oregon’s gaming laws. The primary judgment ordered Oregon Racing and Portland Meadows to cease their operations.
Oregon Racing appealed the decision, maintaining that it was operating a “social game” and therefore was entitled for legal protection. The poker room and racetrack eventually closed in December 2019 while the appeal was pending. The establishment was later demolished in February 2020. The Portland Meadows racetrack operated for 73 long years, and was among the oldest racetracks in the state.
Appellate Court Upholds Initial Ruling
The Court of Appeals has now sided with the Oregon Lottery, affirming that Oregon Racing indeed operated illegally by charging a door fee and taking cash for chips.
The three members of the appeals court unanimously agreed that Oregon Racing was operating as a gambling enterprise and therefore violated the law. The $15 door fee constituted a “house income“, and the holding of cash in exchange for chips meant that Oregon Racing also served as a “bank“.
A statutory amendment in 1974 prohibits any entity to collect a house income from the operation of a social game, presiding judge Erin Lagesen noted. The prohibition also applies to any other revenue streams including food and beverage sales, parking fees as well as taking on the role of a “house bank“.
Oregon Poker Clubs Under Threat
The recent decision is a threat to the operations of other US poker rooms in Oregon. If the ruling ultimately stands, that means they will be out of business.
Over the past few years, there have been efforts to shut down several poker clubs operating outside of traditional Indian casinos in Oregon. In 2013, a bill which sought to ban poker rooms in Oregon was put forward but ultimately failed to gain support at committee level.
In 2017, another measure was pushed, seeking to redefine social game for the purpose of regulating gambling in the state. The bill, if approved into law, would make it impossible for existing poker clubs to continue to operate.