Sunday, May 12, 2013

Oregon may fold Poker Clubs?

May 07, 2013

DALLAS -- Aces Up Poker Club in downtown Dallas next week will have been open for four years.

The venture has been successful, said owner Josh Ambrose, bringing in as many as 500 players during a busy week.

"It's all worked out very well," Ambrose said.

But a bill set for a public hearing soon in the Oregon House of Representatives' Rules Committee threatens to bring a good run to an end.

House Bill 3518 would ban social card rooms such as Aces Up unless operated by a charitable, fraternal or religious organization. The bill is sponsored by the Rules Committee, where it was referred by House Speaker Tina Kotek on May 1.

Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), who supports the bill along with Kotek, said she believes some card rooms in the Portland metropolitan area and elsewhere in Oregon are operating outside the state's rules regarding social gaming.

Her biggest concern is that state statute prohibits establishments from profiting from gaming.

"It's the intention of the social gaming statutes that there isn't supposed to be any kind of house making any kind of money," she said.

That includes charging a cover fee, which many poker clubs -- including Aces Up -- do.

Ambrose said the bill's introduction was a shock to him, noting he just learned of it recently.

"There's a provision in current Oregon law that allows cities and counties to license a private business like mine to operate," he said. "We've met every requirement the city has placed in front of us."

He added that Aces Up is safe, clean and pays its taxes. Players pay a $5 cover charge to play and tournament buy-ins start at $20. All buy-in fees go toward the prize pool. Aces Up doesn't take a cut, but sells food and beverages, which account for a large part of its income.

"We are a member of this community and we want to stay here and continue to provide great entertainment for our players," Ambrose said.

Parrish said language in the current statute leaves room for interpretation regarding how the poker clubs are regulated, but she believes the intention of the state's social gaming laws was to prevent establishments from profiting. The bill eliminates that possibility while still allowing charities and nonprofit organizations to run fundraising tournaments.

Patrick Rhea (center) watches a hand of no-limit Texas Hold

Photo by Pete Strong

Patrick Rhea (center) watches a hand of no-limit Texas Hold'em Saturday night at Aces Up Poker Club in Dallas.

"When a facility charges people a cover fee, they are making money off poker and that is against the law," she said.

Parrish said she is also concerned about whether the dealers in some card rooms are not properly paid or legally employed.

She added any debate on this bill is a chance to determine what the state's position on the card rooms should be and whether they should be more regulated.

"If that is want Oregon wants to do, then let's have that conversation," she said, adding there is some urgency to addressing this during the current legislative session as more cities are considering allowing card rooms to operate. Parrish said there likely wouldn't be time to debate this in the short 2014 session.

"If we don't find a way to address this now ... it will be another two years without any ability to have any kind of eyes on this," she said. "We just need to have a conversation. The next shot would be 2015. If we have a chance to evaluate it, let's evaluate it."

Ambrose said an opposition group has already formed, "Save Oregon Poker," and club owners are meeting with legislators, as well as encouraging their customers to speak in support of clubs.

He is confident the bill can be defeated.

"Shutting down legitimate businesses should not be in the Legislature's agenda this or any other session," Ambrose said. "We hope to be operating in Dallas' downtown core for many years to come."