Tigard's Lu's Sports Bar rolls dice on social gaming venture after city approves poker, other gambling, in businesses

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ellen Partal, of Tigard, shows Lus Sports Bar owner Xujian Lu how to play Texas Hold Em. The bar will offer poker six nights a week starting July 26.The city of Tigard has dealt Lu’s Sports Bar & Grill, a potential full house. Now all it has to do is collect.

The City Council approved a plan last week opening the doors for business to host poker and other types of social gaming starting this month.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Xujian LuIt’s what Xujian Lu, the owner of Lu's Sports Bar has been waiting more than a year for.

Lu approached the city about allowing poker after customers told him they wanted to hold poker tournaments in his restaurant.

“We said we’d ask (the city),” said Lu. “You’ll never know until you ask.”

The Council approved the plan on June 25, allowing businesses to host poker and other social gaming could help them bring in new customers.

Just what is social gaming? It’s blackjack, bridge, and any of the other gambling games that people have been playing for years, but in a less-risky environment.

Unlike traditional gambling, there are no house players, no house bank and no house odds in social gaming. Businesses must apply for a $100-a-year permit from the city to host games and cannot charge a cover fee.

In fact, the company isn’t allowed to make any profit off the games, except for food and drink sales.

“We can’t even accept tips,” said Ellen Patal, a marketing director at Lu’s Sports Bar. “And we can’t charge more on food or alcohol than we would to a normal customer, either.”

Lu took over the Hi Hat Chinese restaurant, 11530 S.W. Pacific Highway, a local landmark that closed its doors in 2010, opening a seafood buffet in its place.

In March, the business went through a month-long remodel, reopening as Lu’s Sports Bar.

Patal said that social gaming could really help the fledgling businesses get off the ground.

“Being a relatively new place, if we are getting more people to come in that works out well for us,” she said.

The buffet hosted free poker games for a while, Patal said, but they didn’t catch on with customers.

“They would come in and play and then leave,” she said. “They were upsetting the regular customers.”

Those regular customers wanted to gamble, Patal said, but state law bans social gaming unless local governments give their consent.

Last week’s decision will allow Lu’s to start hosting Texas Hold ’Em games six nights a week starting July 26. The bar already offers some video poker and Patal said that social gaming will help people return to what was once a local hotspot.

“For us, it means that we’ll have different group of people coming in that maybe wouldn’t otherwise,” she said. “They can be reminded why they used to come (to the Hi Hat) when they were young. It also allows our current customers something that they have been asking to do.”

Under the ordinance, businesses are allowed to use up to 50 percent of their floor space for social gaming, giving Lu’s Sports Bar’s 18,000-square-foot building plenty of room to expand it operations.

Patal said that the poker games will likely start out small, with two tables in the back of the bar.

“It will probably take awhile for the games to get off the ground,” she said, but Patal already has plans to expand the games to the bar’s large 300-seat banquet room, offering poker tournaments and other games, eventually.

“Could you imagine if we had a Bunco night?” she said.

Police will monitor businesses

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Lus Sports Bar in Tigard plans to start hosting Texas Hold Em tournaments this month after the city approved a new ordinance allowing social gaming in city limits.Social gaming laws are on the books in cities across the state, including Portland and Hillsboro. King City passed a similar ordinance last year. A new business, the King City Social Club opened this spring, offering poker, bridge, backgammon and panguingue games seven days a week as well as shuttle services for seniors in King City and Summerfield retirement communities.

It’s unclear just how many businesses will start offering social gaming.

So far, the city has heard from only a small handful of restaurants and other businesses that said they were interested in having game nights, said Kent Wyatt, a senior management analyst for the city, and only Lu’s Sports Bar has said it will be offering games as soon as the ordinance takes affect.

“I think this is a good opportunity for businesses to expand their revenue ideas,” said City Councilor Marc Woodard. “I think for new business especially, this could be a great way to advertise your facility and there are other (businesses) that would want to do this all the time. I think it’s a great thing for small businesses.”

Gambling comes with its share of opponents as well.

Lawmakers, including state Rep. Julie Parrish, a West Linn Republican who represents Tualatin, pushed a bill this year that would have put an end to Portland-area card rooms. The bill died in committee, but Portland has had problems during the past several years with card rooms and video poker 'delis' operating as mini-casinos.

Those concerns didn’t worry Tigard Police Chief Alan Orr, who said that officers will be able to enforce the city ordinance. “Generally with these establishments they are one or other, they either are compliant and there is a bright line or they aren’t,” he said.

Police will be keeping an eye on businesses to ensure that they are following the rules, Orr said.

“We’ll be doing spot checks, particularly as this ordinance gets up on its feet,” he said.

The City Council plans to take up the issue again in six to 12 months to see how the ordinance is working.

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