The Oregon lottery is under pressure from several sides. Recently two lottery bills were introduced by Republican Representative Julie Parrish. One bill would divert lottery revenues to veterans and the other bill would restrict the amount of money the lottery can spend on marketing and advertising. Parrish told reporters “I don’t think they’re incongruent.” Parrish wants more restrictions on the lottery because she says the lottery created ‘gambling addicts’ and ’causes misery.’ Several studies have thoroughly debunked the connection between gambling addiction and lotteries. Parrish says she wants lottery revenues to be put to good use. Parrish stated “The problems of returning soldiers are very real. And let’s face it, the lottery’s not going away any time soon.”
During this legislative session the Oregon lottery faces a conundrum. The message from lawmakers seems to be “We like your money, just not the way you raise it.” In addition to Parrish’s bills there are proposals to use lottery revenues to fund bike trails and aid mass transit. There is one proposal to use lottery-backed bonds for the construction of a hotel at the Oregon Convention Center. Other bills would require the Oregon lottery to pay more attention to problem gambling. Another proposal would eliminate the stated goal of “maximizing revenue commensurate with the public good” and would also reduce the cut that goes to lottery retailers who install video poker and slot machines.
House Speaker Tina Kotek introduced a bill that would classify any lottery outlet a “casino” if the retailer makes more than half of their profits from video poker and slots. Casinos, with the exception of tribal ones, are illegal in Oregon. Kotek said that her bill targets “lottery row,” a group of delis and taverns on Hayden Island that cater to gamblers. Kotek said “I think it’s a good policy discussion to have. When voters approved gambling and the lottery, they didn’t want mini-casinos throughout their neighborhoods.”
The proposals and bills have caught many lottery officials off guard and are problematic to interest groups that support the Oregon Lottery. Lottery Director Larry Niswender told reporters “We are seeing a mix of demands being asked of the lottery.” When he appears in front of the legislature Niswender maintains a neutral stance and said that he usually explains how the lottery works, where the money goes and who bets on lottery games. Observers expect more lottery bills to be introduced during the current legislative session.