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John Ogai, who shuttered his former Encore poker club in mid-July, died unexpectedly Thursday night, according to his friend and professional associate Chris Vetter.


Vetter, the director of Save Oregon Poker, a political action committee, said Ogai was depressed about the loss of his once-thriving Northwest Portland poker club.

“For weeks he had been despondent and aloof, not returning calls, and withdrawing socially,” Vetter said. “I’m not certain as to the exact cause of death.”

As reported in the Aug. 16 Portland Tribune, the city of Portland sent letters to Ogai and other poker club owners on July 12, notifying them they could no longer deploy card dealers in their poker tournaments, who had been getting paid via player tips. The clubs were told they must rely on players rotating the deal, and some poker club owners fear that will mar the Texas Hold 'Em tournaments played at the clubs and spell the end of the poker club business in Portland.

Ogai shut down his club, one of the biggest and most successful in town, the day after the city letter was sent.

The city letter came after an Encore dealer filed a complaint with the Bureau of Oregon Labor and Industries seeking to get paid at least minimum wage for their work. BOLI expanded the case, and on June 17 issued a notice of intent to assess $59,000 in civil damages against Encore, since renamed PDX Poker Club, and the affiliated King of Clubs Dealers Group, on behalf of 59 dealers who had worked at the Encore. If the club wound up owing back wages, the costs would have been significantly higher.

Separately, an attorney filed a notice of intent to file a class action lawsuit on behalf of Encore dealers, seeking minimum wages for their work.

“The lawsuit made him stressed out,” Vetter said. “The regulators made him stressed out.”

Ogai was a “brilliant entrepreneur,” Vetter said. “He was sincere and he was incredibly generous.”

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