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Oregon Senate Committee Is No Fan Of Anti-Poker Room Bill

Legislation's Future In Senate Unclear After Hearing

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A group of Oregon lawmakers met Wednesday to very briefly discuss a bill on the table that would crack down on for-profit poker rooms in the state.

The Senate Committee on General Government and Accountability held the discussion on House Bill 2190. The legislation, which was introduced in early January, passed the House by a 39-16 vote (with five “not voting”) on April 27.

There are some 20 poker rooms in the Portland area, which could all potentially close if the legislation is enacted in its current form. By tweaking the definition of “social gaming,” the proposal would permit organized poker games only if they are operated and controlled by a charitable, fraternal or religious organization.

Efforts to crack down on the vibrant poker scene obviously haven’t pleased the local poker community. According to the political action committee Save Oregon Poker, casinos in Washington State have previously backed legislation to effectively end poker in Portland.

The five-member committee, which had just finished discussing other small business issues in Oregon before touching on HB 2190, didn’t seem like a big fan of the bill either.

“I think there is another way of moving forward than with what is currently prescribed in the bill,” said State Sen. Chuck Riley, chair of the committee.

According to the committee, a better way forward would be to prohibit the poker rooms from charging cover fees. The rooms don’t take a rake from the games, instead making money from food and beverages sales and the cover charges. The lawmakers on the committee appear to be OK with the games continuing if there’s no fee to walk in the door.

For years the rooms have used non-waged dealers who make their money from tips. That’s been an issue with the Oregon Department of Labor and it put the games under the microscope.

According to the committee, an amended bill could ban tipping and permanent dealers. In other words, no income whatsoever could come directly from the poker games.

In August, Portland suggested that rooms should have players deal the games themselves. Anyone who plays poker for money knows that’s not the best idea.

Another discussion of HB 2190 is planned for Wednesday, May 24.