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Ogai had a steady flow of door fees and captive customers for his bar and grill. Not Encore. But more important was his decision to organize big-dollar tournaments, which attracted hundreds of players. Numerous players say Ogai revolutionized the business when he opened Encore. Encore had as many as 50 dealers working regularly at the club, records show. Before Portland began licensing poker clubs, players seeking a legal game had to drive to card rooms in La Center, Wash. Our readers rely on our comprehensive news reporting. BOLI's ruling had an impact on the city of Portland. Typical of Ogai's bluntness was an email exchange with a former Encore waitress named Kristen Shull, who questioned his management style. One of them involves dealers. They draw an estimated to hardcore players, and thousands more who play semi-regularly. More than a dozen poker rooms have operated in Portland since —a little slice of Vegas in Stumptown. After visiting Las Vegas nearly a decade ago, Ogai, a slight, intense Russian-born entrepreneur, saw an opportunity. Please support the city we love by joining our membership program, Friends of Willamette Week. That's painful if you're a regular who comes in a dozen times a month, and many do. The question of who is and isn't an employee is at the heart of the gig economy, in which workers enjoy more freedom but have fewer legal protections. He spoke with an accent and was often blunt to the point of rudeness. It was up to them whether they reported their income to the IRS. The report puzzled the poker community—Ogai was a trim and vigorous 38 years old. He called the drink 'Sex. When there's a workplace dispute, BOLI decides the case. Ogai had no criminal record, although documents show Portland police investigated a rape accusation against him in September The case was dropped when the alleged victim stopped cooperating. In , one of them filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, claiming Ogai owed him back pay and overtime. The club is raising money for lawyers and its April showdown with the city of Portland. He killed himself last year after losing a legal battle that put his club out of business. A recent Friday night at Final Table, the biggest poker club in East Portland, illustrates the paradox. Next month, Portland poker goes on trial at a city hearing, where Portland's two biggest clubs will for the first time formally address the conflict between what's allowed and what's actually happening. Professional dealers manage what can be a complex and contentious game without having a financial interest in who wins. And, crucial to his success, he didn't charge players a per-hand tax known as "the rake" see "Raked," page April 15, , is known among serious poker players as "Black Friday. Typical of the responses was a May 5, , email from Capt. They introduced a bill to limit poker rooms to nonprofits, such as an Elks Lodge or American Legion chapter, but it went nowhere. Portland started licensing poker clubs in Williams adds that her bureau expected the clubs to follow the law. Oregon law pertaining to poker is complicated, but the upshot is pretty clear: Poker clubs can exist if they follow certain rules. But the fact that Ogai controlled who worked, when they worked and how much they got paid made them employees under the law. Ogai went upscale. Online players migrated to the clubs, and Encore's tournaments grew ever larger. Yet more than anyone, he established the game in Portland. Professional dealers shuttle from table to table, carrying their own decks and seat cushions. Evgeny "John" Ogai was a lousy poker player. Maybe you've never played poker or hate gambling. He bought padded leather chairs and stocked top-shelf liquor. That's where he got his start in poker, running an unlicensed game. Competitors say the appropriate response is clear—shut them down. After the agency investigated the dispute at Encore, it concluded dealers were in fact employees. Rask pleaded his case to state lawmakers. Like other businesses that operate in gray areas—such as cannabis before legalization, and Airbnb today—poker clubs' existence raises a question: If companies operate outside the law, is that a reflection of poor enforcement or archaic laws? Ogai frequented high-end restaurants like El Gaucho and Andina. The dispute mirrors similar worker battles in Oregon—including fights waged by strippers, yoga instructors and Uber drivers. As the clock ticks toward midnight March 3, nearly players fill a room that smells like a mixture of air freshener, fear and fryer grease. He said he'd scrupulously followed city rules, "including their explicit ban on hiring dealers as employees. Yet officials say nearly everything about them regularly violates city ordinances and state law. UFC brawlers battle silently on big screens lining the walls. I play hard," Ogai wrote. But the fact is, Rask was right. Poker clubs are not allowed to employ them. After graduating from Portland State University in with a degree in information technology, Ogai sold used computers online, brokered real estate, launched an internet startup for language translation, and tried to perfect a dating app. In the end, however, it wasn't Ogai's competitors that brought him down. Dusty curtains cover the windows, and worn linoleum covers the floors. His wasn't the first poker club in Portland, but it was the first to draw big crowds. The early Portland clubs were sketchy, attracted few customers and had a high failure rate. Although Oregon law prohibits non-tribal casino gambling, in state lawmakers passed a "social gaming" statute to allow nonprofits and private clubs to host poker games. Across Portland, a handful of the city's licensed poker clubs are following Ogai's focus on tournaments. He became the first in Portland to capitalize on tournament poker, attracting a large and regular group of players to Encore. It was his own dealers. A uniformed security guard watches the door, aware that there are tens of thousands of dollars in cash on the premises. Although licensed, Encore and other poker clubs appear to have operated in violation of the law for years, thanks to inattentive regulators. Then Rask voiced concerns about the all-cash business to the Internal Revenue Service, the Oregon departments of Justice and Revenue, and city officials, including the Portland Police Bureau. State law specifies that the game has to be "between players," meaning there cannot be professional dealers like the ones casinos employ.

Our need for strong and independent local journalism is more urgent now than ever.

ByEncore and other Portland clubs were encore casino portland. BOLI acknowledged that dealers were not on the poker club's payroll. Illogical as it may seem, the clubs are both legal and yet operating illegally.

There's little decoration encore casino portland than a framed poster of James Dean that reads, "The only greatness for man is immortality.

They will lock in at the tables for eight hours or more, drifting away occasionally for a smoke, a restroom break or an ATM infusion.

Portland poker faces extinction because of a lethal combination—aggrieved competitors across the Columbia River and energized government regulators who have finally mastered a legal framework more complicated than the permutations of Portland's poker game of choice, Texas Hold 'em.

Unlike the shadowy underground clubs featured in movies such as RoundersPortland poker clubs are licensed by the city and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and operate out in the open. But lobbyist Geoff Sugerman, who encore casino portland Ogai derail a bill that would have killed poker outright, says laws prohibiting willing participants from competing encore casino portland read article other in a game of skill are the problem.

Ogai's mother told a responding officer that for the previous month, Ogai had been severely depressed since "his business, the Encore Encore casino portland Club, had been shut down.

Previously, city licensing staff had responded to complaints about poker clubs in a piecemeal fashion, but now they jumped on the issue of professional dealers. Portland clubs were taking business away from card rooms in La Center. Ogai took what he learned about poker at the Six Point Inn and applied for a social gaming license in , soon after the city opened the door to poker clubs. Department of Justice shut down the three biggest online poker sites, leaving players throughout the U. Ogai's success inspired competitors. Part of his success certainly stemmed from having an attractive club in a central location. He even sued the city for failing to enforce its ordinances but lost at the trial, appeal and Oregon Supreme Court level. She posted his reply on Facebook. Typically, poker players focus on playing, not dealing. The players are ethnically diverse but nearly all male. George Teeny, who owns two La Center card rooms, hired Portland lawyer Thomas Rask and a team of lobbyists, who went to Salem and argued that the Portland poker clubs were breaking the law. But Ogai, the man who did more than anybody to popularize poker in this town, won't be there. The clubs are also—according to interviews with players, recent city inspections and a reporter's observations—breaking numerous laws. Ogai offered the same experience, but right here in Portland. But the issues facing Portland's 13 licensed poker clubs illustrate the dilemmas of the "gig economy," which is characterized by short-term contracts and freelance work. Televised coverage of the World Series of Poker had generated national interest, catapulting Texas Hold 'em beyond casual games and some illegal, big-money games between serious players. Little more than a month after Encore shut down, Vetter, Ojai's friend, delivered stunning news on a 1,member Facebook page for local poker players: Ogai was dead. That showdown has been inevitable since the city began licensing clubs in , because poker is in direct conflict with numerous city and state legal prohibitions see "House Rules," below.