Where to go for a Powerball sandwich

When is a deli actually a casino? I’d say it’s when they get rid of the rotating pie refrigerator to make room for a craps table. According to the News-Review, many Oregon “delis” are actually thinly-disguised lottery casinos:

Across Oregon, delis that seem to specialize in lottery more than lunch pose a dilemma.

The businesses generate profits to the owners and the Oregon Lottery, supplying an increasingly vital portion of the state general-fund budget. But critics say these establishments cause more social ills and violate a state constitutional prohibition of lottery casinos.

“These are casinos doing business under the guise of being a restaurant, a tavern,” said David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, a coalition of 17 Christian congregations.

The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that a handful of video poker terminals at a neighborhood tavern or deli don’t constitute a casino unless gambling was the “dominant use or dominant purpose” of the business.

But the definition leaves lots of wiggle room, and lottery director Dale Penn is trying to make the rules firm. His proposal, which was discussed at a public hearing in Salem on Tuesday, says lottery retailers must not generate more than half their revenue from gambling.

He also proposes expanded criteria to evaluate whether a business is a casino: How does it advertise? Does it offer a full menu, or just one or two sandwiches? What’s its name? (One Portland establishment is called Nick’s Double Up Deli).

A few residents showed up at lottery headquarters for the hearing. One was Jim Sterup of Salem, who said he worked for 20 years as a craps-table pit boss in Reno, Nev., and Atlantic City, N.J.

Sterup asked lottery officials to curb “hole-in-the-wall” lottery delis, where state lottery terminals are the main form of business.

“I believe that everyone understands that we have let casinos operate in the state of Oregon and we need to correct that situation,” Sterup said.

Two interest groups submitted comments. The Oregon Restaurant Association, which represents lottery retailers, endorsed the proposed rules. Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon said the rules give too much discretion to the lottery director.


I should probably talk about the unsanctioned spread of gambling or something like that, but honestly I’m still hung up on the rotating pie refrigerator. It’s one of those things that is totally ordinary, but seemed really neat to me as a child. I’m probably not the only one. Whoever thought of that was a genius.

Back to lottodelis–this is why Nevada has a thing called a restricted slots license, so that bars and restaurants can add 15 slots (no more, and usually no less). That way, you’ve got bar-top video poker without turning the place into a casino. I’m not aware of any requirement that a portion of the joint’s revenues must be from non-gaming. If deils are allowed only a set number of machines, could they stay in business if they didn’t have some other revenue stream? This is a study in the law on unintended consequences.

Speaking of restricted licenses, earlier this week I had some tasty pizza at my one of my favorite neighborhood bar/restaurant/video poker emporiums. They were still serving food, which was great, the bar was pretty crowded–well, about as crowded as I’ve ever seen the place. But I couldn’t help noticing on my way out that one of the patrons, probably intending to smoke outside, had lit up while sitting on his barstool and hadn’t yet gotten around to leaving the place. And I’ve got a hunch that none of his fellow patrons were going to tear themselves away from American Idol to call the Health Department on him. Based on this little bit of casual empirical research, I’d say that 1) the smoking ban isn’t going to hurt business as much as opponents argued and 2) it’s not going to “protect the children” as effectively as proponents thought.

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