The situation legally and politically regarding gambling in Oregon is … well, a little bit different from other states; not too surprising, we suppose, given the state’s status as a pioneer in marijuana legalization.
But while the existence of nine Native American-run casinos in a state this size is to be expecting, bizarre is the prevailing state law which essentially prohibits large-scale (or even medium-scale, really) offering of casino-style games yet virtually fosters the placement of electronic gaming machines in bars, restaurants, hotels and the like. Some 14,000 individual, state lottery-run terminals offerings “ine games” (a.k.a. video slot machines) and/or video poker were running in the state as of the end of 2016.
As a result, the Oregon gambling scene looks something like a cross between that of Nevada and, likesay, Washington. Or, even more comparably, a European Union country circa 2001.
Population: 3.97 million (2014 est.)
Area: 98,466 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 18 to 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 9
• In 1853, the naming of Portland won out over Boston based on a coin flip; the potential names were chosen based on the claim’s co-owners’ New England hometowns.
• Before Salem became the state capital, Oregon City and Corvallis served the function.
• Oregon’s Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S.
• With 53 officially listed, Oregon has more ghost towns than any state.
Like we wrote above: gambling history is a little different in Oregon. The current landscape for gaming (not to mention lotsa lawsuits) in the state goes back to an amendment to a passage in the Oregon Constitution made in 1984. The 14 words which have led to much legal wrangling in three decades since go: “The Legislative Assembly has no power to authorize and shall prohibit casinos from operation.” Within in the same bit of law, however, are provisions allowing for slot machines, video poker and other such gaming. Why? That same year, voters approved a law allowing game terminals to be installed in private businesses.
Compared to gambling laws in other states, these 1984 provisions paved a smoother way for Oregon’s Native American tribes to open casinos after the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was passed in 1988. By the mid-1990s, seven Native American-run casinos were in operation; nine are open today.
About the closest the state has come to expanding casino-style gambling beyond reservation lands was in 1995. That year, some 80 gambling-related bills were introduced into the Oregon state legislature, including one that would allow racetracks in Portland to open what might be called “mini racinos,” with facilities for a maximum of 75 video poker games. This was vetoed by the governor.
The aforementioned changes to state law in 1984 also provided a handy loophole for potential card room operators. Thanks to the provision for “social gaming,” poker rooms immediately cropped up all over the state in the 80s, offering low-stakes games in the hundreds of dollars. With the poker boom of the 2000s, prize pools habitually got into the $1,000-$2,000 range and today tournaments offering $100,000 or more are reasonably common.
Of the nine “Indian casinos” open for business, four are run by individual tribes from among the Klamath, Coquille, Burns Paiute and Umpqua people, and the other five by groups of confederated tribes. Only one of these – the Wildhorse Casino and Resort in Pendleton – is located in the eastern part of the state.
The age for gambling at Oregon casinos in most cases is 21. However, some of the casion venues do not serve alcohol, and so those 18 and up may play the games in these places.
Can Oregon claim Archie Karas, one of the most famous gamblers of the 21st century? Portland proved to be Karas’s port of entry to the American Dream when he arrived there in his teens from his native Greece. To be fair, Karas didn’t stay long in Oregon – a couple of years – before heading to Las Vegas, where he would go on a number of financial rollercoasters which made him a legend among gamblers.
Shortly after arriving in Las Vegas, Karas entered the Zone with a capital Z. In 2½ years, the man had turned $10,000 into $40 million or so by beating most of Amreica’s top poker players at that time; today, this time period is known simply as The Run. And in a showing proving the old adadge “easy come, easy go,” Karas incredibly lost nearly the entire $40 mil in just three weeks in 1995.
So … brilliant gambler or cautionary tale? You decide.
From section 4 of Article XV (entitled, awesomely, “Miscellaneous”) of the Oregon state constitution includes the following clauses which have led to much debate about legal definitions:
“The Legislative Assembly has no power to authorize, and shall prohibit, casinos from operation in the State of Oregon.”
“The State Lottery may operate any game procedure authorized by the commission […] whereby prizes are distributed using any existing or future methods among adult persons who have paid for tickets or shares in that game; provided that, in lottery games utilizing computer terminals or other devices, no coins or currency shall ever be dispensed directly to players from such computer terminals or devices…”
The status quo, as odd as it is, looks to be preserved in Oregon. Though one Native American-run casino has gone out of business, the other nine appear to be doing enough business in the 2010s to say afloat for some time. The number of slots/video poker gaming terminals put out by the state lottery commission has increased by 4,000 in five years; clearly, these are more popular than ever.
And as for the innumerable poker rooms in Oregon, a 2013 effort by some state legislators to close the legal loophole allowing for “social gaming” was shot down, and subsequent attempts have not been as popularly backed.