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Oregon Lottery: Portland Poker Room Games Are Illegal

Lottery, Portland Meadows Fighting Over Contract

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The Oregon Lottery believes the poker games running at one of Portland’s largest card rooms are in violation of state gaming law, per a report from the Willamette Week. The Oregon Lottery in July canceled its retail contract with the racetrack, which has allowed the business to host 10 video lottery terminals.

Like other poker rooms in the city, the Portland Meadows poker room doesn’t take a rake, but rather charges a cover fee and makes money from food and beverage sales. According to the lottery, that doesn’t make the business legal.

In a letter dated Aug. 30, the lottery said that it “does not agree with [Portland Meadows’] interpretation of state laws governing gaming.” The group said that even a cover fee violates the rule against “house income” and that when the poker room holds onto the prize pool for a tournament it is illegally acting as a “house bank.”

The vibrant Portland poker scene, home to more than a dozen rooms, argues that the cover fees don’t count as income derived from operation of the poker games. The city of Portland has let the games continue, despite the concerns from the state, which have also included how dealers are compensated for their work.

The Oregon Lottery has given the 22-table room about another month to figure out a solution. The room reportedly earned about $350,000 in commissions from its lottery contract in 2016.

The poker issue has led some lawmakers to seek a legislative fix. A controversial bill to put restrictions on the poker scene fell by the wayside earlier this year.