By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

The lottery, lobbyists and legislation

Once again, several bills are on the table this session. One takes aim at the retailer commission on video gaming play, based on the premise it’s overly generous. One would cap total state lottery revenue as a means of limiting the lottery’s interest in promoting additional gambling. Others would create a high-level lottery position in problem gambling treatment and add training in recognition of problem gambling to training already given to servers in recognition of alcohol abuse.

“Every session, there is something that touches the lottery, but there seem to be more this session than normal,” said Chuck Baumann, public affairs manager with the Oregon State Lottery. The lottery is expected to funnel $1.1 billion into the general fund this biennium, so a lot is at stake.

Bill Perry, lobbyist for the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association, adamantly opposes any reduction in the retailer share of the take from video slot machines.

He said the rate hasn’t changed for many years, retailers are starting to cast about for business models with more growth potential. He said cutting rates could turn them away from video gaming, producing less money for the state instead of more.

Already, he maintained, “More and more business owners are deciding the risk and hassle aren’t worth it.”

However, Perry said gaming revenue remains an important element for many retailers.

“The lottery revenue can give certain luxuries for businesses,” he said. “I hate to use the word luxuries, but it does help employers do things like having health insurance for employees, which reduces turnover, which in turn helps the business flourish and grow.”

Baumann said the lottery isn’t taking any position on the measures aimed at addressing problem gambling, saying that’s for the Legislature to decide. But he said Oregon is actually looked on as a leader in gambling addiction treatment.

“One percent of our revenues go to that fund in Oregon,” he said. “If you have a gambling problem in the state of Oregon, there is free treatment available.

“While the majority of people play lottery games for the fun and entertainment, a small percentage — less than 3 percent — have been identified to possibly have a gambling problem in Oregon. We do address that and we take it very seriously.”

Baumann noted casino slots don’t show the time of day clock, but state video gaming terminals all do. That, he said, is because it is understood that problem gamblers easily lose track of time.

In addition, near the bill acceptor on each machine is a toll-free number compulsive gamblers can call for help, he said. “Also, our terminals toggle between credits and actual dollars, so people can see what they are really spending,” he said.

“It is important for the lottery to have players who play in a healthy way,” Baumann said, “because it is our players who provide the revenues we are able to turn over to the state to help fund the programs that benefit from lottery dollars.”

Meanwhile, meeting between legislative sessions, the Lottery Commission took action to address one nagging issue on its own.

In the course of the past decade, a Hayden Island strip mall had come to encompass a dozen delis offering video gaming. That has drawn increasing fire from neighbors, saying their local “lottery grow” amounts to a casino in its own right.

While taking no action to break up the existing concentration, the commission adopted a rule in November aimed at preventing any new ones elsewhere. It says no more than half the tenants in any given retail complex can offer gaming.

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