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Medford deals poker club a bad hand

Medford’s only poker business held its grand opening June 4, and then city officials did an about-face and asked the gaming facility to shut its doors.

The city had approved the Medford Poker Club at 3502 Excel Drive, Suite 103, but revoked the business license after an anonymous person complained the business was operating illegally.

Stumped, the owners continued to operate but appealed to the Medford City Council last week, and the council discovered that some raffle drawings held at schools as well as local bridge tournaments also may be operating outside the bounds of local laws.

“That would be illegal, too,” said Councilor Dick Gordon, a bridge player.

Damien Rennie, one of the owners of the Medford Poker Club, said he and his business partner had invested $45,000 into the gaming operation based on approvals from the city.

Social gaming is allowed under Oregon law, but a city has to take another step to approve a local social gaming ordinance — something Medford officials previously hadn’t approved.

The council agreed to take the matter up at its July 21 council meeting.

“Yes, obviously somebody made a mistake,” Councilor Kevin Stine said.

Rennie said his operation could have been fined $250 a day for operating without a business license, but last week councilors agreed to waive the fine pending their decision to approve social gaming in the city.

“This is a unique situation in the city,” Councilor Eli Matthews said. “It needs to be remedied.”

Rennie said, “That’s why they allowed us to continue to operate, because they made a mistake.”

Rennie said social gaming clubs operate in other cities in Jackson County and throughout the state. Ashland has a social gaming ordinance, and Rennie provided a copy of it to the city of Medford for consideration.

His club offers free membership and makes its money from donations of $1 to $4 each time a player wins a hand. The gaming room has four poker tables, and another room has an additional table. Free non-alcoholic drinks and snacks are available, and players can bring beer or other drinks and place them in a fridge. The club has almost 300 members.

Players can win quite a bit with most hands, with the pots ranging from a few dollars up to hundreds of dollars, Rennie said. The club offers no limit Texas Hold 'Em, with a $100 buy-in.

“It depends on your streak that night,” he said. The average pot is under $100, he said.

Michael Perkins, another owner, said poker has become a mainstream phenomenon.

“It doesn’t have the same connotations it used to have,” he said.

Perkins said his goal is to provide a friendly, social place for people to come and play poker. Rennie and Perkins met at a poker business in Eugene.

A former accounts manager for a telecommunications company, Perkins said he was diagnosed with colon cancer and is undergoing a second round of chemotherapy.

“I wanted to do something with the rest of my life that was my passion,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Brandon Perkins practices dealing at the Medford Poker Club on Excel Drive. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta