Legal Oregon Online Gambling & Poker Laws

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Relevant State Code: 167.108 et seq.; 462.010 et seq.

While most people associate the Pacific Northwest with forests filled with lush evergreens and an excess of coffees shops, the state of Oregon may have more in common with gamblers’ paradises like Atlantic City and Las Vegas than you may think.

Oregon Gambling Laws

Oregon gambling laws are governed by state codes 167.108 et seq. and 462.010 et seq.

Definition of Gambling

Gambling is defined as

“Staking or risking something of value upon outcome of a contest of chance or future contingent event not under control of actor, upon agreement that actor would receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.”

This includes traditional casino-type gambling such as table games (blackjack and poker, for example) and slot machines as well as horse racing, dog racing, off-track betting, bingo, the lottery, and other unofficial games of chance or contests in which participants have an opportunity to win money or other prizes.

What Isn't Considered Gambling?

What isn’t classified as gambling in Oregon? The most notable exception is contests of chance played for non-monetary tokens, which means it’s perfectly okay for radio stations to hold contests for free concert tickets or for restaurants to put together game with prizes such as free merchandise.

Legal casinos are restricted to those run by recognized tribes as tribal gaming facilities, however Oregon’s resident have a number of other options should they get an itch to place a bet. If you live in Oregon, you have a legal right to hold a private game in your own home and charitable gaming (such as a casino-themed night thrown as an organizational fundraiser) is also allowed, albeit with some restrictions. There are also ten horseracing tracks, about a dozen off-track betting facilities, and the Oregon state lottery. The latter alone generates more than $1 billion in sales every year.

Oregon Online Poker Laws

Laws regulated online gaming, including poker, are often confusing and difficult to interpret. Oregon’s laws regarding online gambling are no different – in fact, many people consider the state to be among the least-clear cut on this issue in the entire nation.

While specific questions about the legality of online poker should be addressed to a lawyer familiar with your state’s particular legislative codes, here are a few things you should know:

Section 167.109 of the Oregon code address internet gambling, stating that “A person engaged in an Internet gambling business may not knowingly accept, in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful gambling using the Internet.” The statute also makes it illegal to extend credit to any person engaged in internet gambling, transfer electronic funds to that person, issue a check to some gambling on the internet, and other such financial transactions. This seems to address the issue of charging for game play but nowhere in the code does it address the individual playing. Many people view this as a sort of loophole in that there is no language declaring it illegal for an individual to participate in internet gambling, but the intent of the state is clearly to outlaw all types of internet gambling. Further interpretation of the code is best left to the experts.

Online poker is not specifically mentioned in any Oregon law either. It is, however, illegal to operate an online room from within state lines and as online poker is technically defined as gambling it would fall under the gambling laws mentioned above. By default, then, it’s considered illegal.

Online gambling sites generally let players gamble at their own risk, meaning few if any sites will deny a player based on their residence in a state such as Oregon.

Anyone who knowingly places a bet with a bookmaker or participates in unlawful gambling as a player may be guilty of unlawful gambling in the second degree, a Class A misdemeanor (section 167.122). The current fine for such an infraction is around $6,250. Those convicted may also have any verifiable winnings (and even up to double that amount) seized by the court in lieu of the stated fine.

Is it Legal to Play Poker in Oregon?

If you’re looking for somewhere to play poker legally in Oregon, your best bet is to visit one of the approved tribal gambling operations that already exist in the state. There are some 20 live card rooms located on either tribal grounds or running under the auspices of social gambling or you can play in your own home or at a friend’s place provided you aren’t charged for the right to play.

As mentioned above, online poker is not specifically outlines as illegal in Oregon but it would seem to fall under the more general anti-gambling laws. This is especially true if you’re hoping to operate an online poker room from your home or business in Oregon – running such an operation is most definitely illegal. Participating in one as a player can be a bit murkier in terms of whether or not you may get in trouble but there are few if any instances of state authorities pursuing online gamblers who play poker on sites run outside of Oregon.

Will Oregon Regulate Online Poker?

The extensive regulations and increasingly explicit language already put into law by the state of Oregon clearly make it known that past and current legislatures overwhelming want online poker to remain illegal in Oregon. Still, changes in gambling law throughout the United States could well prove inspirational and it would not be surprising if more lobbying and the momentum of other regulatory changes across the U.S. eventually helped influence new poker laws in Oregon as well.

Until then, it’s basically a waiting game. Those interested in change should contact their representatives and key a close eye on what’s happening in other states across America as those changes – including the language used on ballots and in proposed legislation – could prove to be the tipping point for happy and eager gamblers who call Oregon home.

History of Gambling in Oregon

In the 1980’s, two court cases – known now as the Seminole and Cabazon decisions – helped establish the rights of Native American tribes in relations to running gambling organizations within the state of Oregon. In 1988, the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act further affirmed those rights, especially those specific to Class III gaming operations (those inclusive of lotteries and casino games, mainly). Together, this group of regulations seemed to give tribes permission to run a large variety of games but many tribes, fearful if road blocks such as legal battles and opposition within the community, restricted themselves to simple bingo halls.

That began to change in 1993 when the Cow Creek tribe negotiated a compact with the state of Oregon to augment their bingo hall with both video poker and blackjack. Other tribes followed suit and by 2009 there were nine tribal casinos in Oregon generating an annual net revenue in the neighborhood of $574 million.

Non-tribal commercial casinos have had a more difficult history in Oregon. The owner of Portland’s Paramount Theatre, John Haviland, sought permission to convert his business to a state-operated casino in 1972. He was denied. In 1978, another group wanted to raise money for state schools by opening legal casinos on the Oregon Coast. When the state lottery was introduced 1984, it included a new constitutional clause that declared, “The Legislative Assembly has no power to authorize and shall prohibit casinos from operation.” That ballot measure has been upheld since and was used to defeat a 1995 measure that would’ve permitted video poker machines at racetracks in Portland (the measure was vetoed by Governor John Kitzhaber on constitutional grounds) as well as two developed-led ballot proposals in 2010 and 2012.

As for other types of gambling, there is a rich history there as well. So-called “casino nights” were legalized in 1971, thrilling non-profit organizations that sought to raise money and awareness by inviting guests to gamble at craps, roulette, and blackjack in exchange for non-cash prizes. The “Happy Canyon” law was inspired by the Pendleton Round-Up. In 1976, voters passed a constitutional amendment that made bingo and raffles legal and Texas Hold’Em was added to the “yes” list for charitable gamin in 2005.

Race tracks also have a rich tradition in Oregon. Portland Meadows opened in 1946 and there is an entire circuit of horseracing that makes its way through Oregon in the summer. Greyhound racing was legal from 1933 until 2004, and in 1997 Oregon became one of the first states to accept electronic horse and dog racing wagers from out-of-state bettors.

With the increasingly popularity of the internet and the legions of poker aficionados who want to play real money cards online from the comfort of their own homes, more and more people are seeing internet gambling in Oregon as a hot-button issue. What will happen in the future? That remains to be seen.