I removed the newspaper from the protective plastic sheath commonly found during the rainy months in Oregon. As I unfolded the newspaper, I saw the disturbing lead story on the main page "Portland poker rooms face shutdown under bill at Oregon Legislature." I braced myself for yet another assault on the liberty of American poker players. This time in my own back yard.
A quick glance at the large accompanying color photo gave me some hope to battle the articles apparent poker scene negativity. Pictured was a young, attractive woman playing poker at a local Portland poker room. The description indicated that she was a 29-year-old lawyer who enjoyed playing poker in her spare time. In selecting that particular picture, the newspaper revealed their sentiments. They could have chosen some grisly older veteran gambling away his family's fortune or some compulsive underage teen sneaking into a club, but they chose to demonstrate that talented, hard working, educated, and even attractive women also enjoy playing poker. Poker is ingrained in American culture and shouldn't be demonized unnecessarily.
Oregon's elected officials would be wise to look objectively at the facts before trying to further limit poker. There are nineteen poker rooms throughout the state of Oregon. Four of them are larger Native American owned casinos beyond most limits of the state. The remaining 15, nine of which are situated in Portland, operate under antiquated legislation that "make such games legal only for religious, charitable and fraternal organizations." The new speaker of the state house has given the okay for the proposed legislation to go to committee in an effort to reign in their claimed "explosion" of gambling.
The reality is that most of Oregon's poker rooms have been operating for years in modest circumstances. They charge no rake, generating revenue from a daily entry fee that typically runs between $5 and $10, tournament fees and the proceeds from food and alcohol sales. Except for a couple smaller poker rooms, they all have between five and fifteen poker tables available for play.
The poker room owner interviewed in the article explained that he averages 150 players a day and employs 15 people. He feels they are bringing a lot of value to the city. The poker room works hard to create a welcoming and safe environment for their players. City and state officials assert that complaints have been made regarding broken rules and have closed down some poker rooms over the last few years. But the fear of abuses at clubs and secret high stakes games are largely unfounded gossip. The local club owner asserts "It there weren't places like this, basically all the games would go underground. That's where you have the sleaze."
If the goal of future legislation is to improve oversight of clubs, transparency of the game and further protecting players, then they will find little opposition. But elected officials should be careful to not shroud their arguments behind moralistic purposes that ultimately reveal their hypocritical tendencies of representing the powerful state lottery, horse-racing, and Native American interests who would like nothing more than to press their advantage. Oregon is a progressive state that has resisted the heavy hand of government in the past. Oregonians desire the freedom to make their own responsible decisions of whether to bet or fold. Even the attractive young female lawyer types.