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Dont gamble on quasi-casinos

Our Opinion

This time of year, billboards and commercials promoting the Oregon Lottery promise prizes 'inside Santa's beard,' as well as 'good things' for Oregon if people participate in the state-run gambling operation.

Admittedly, Lottery profits do invest in positive outcomes for Oregon's schools, parks and economic development. But the 'good things' highlighted in Lottery advertisements don't justify the bad things that the Lottery tolerates in places such as Jantzen Beach.

As reported by the Portland Tribune's Steve Law in the past two weeks, the functional equivalent of a casino has appeared in a Jantzen Beach strip mall, with a dozen Lottery vendors locating there - all sharing the same parking lot and some sharing the same ownership and even the same bathrooms.

Such a hotbed of gambling operations, with a total of 72 Lottery machines, ought to be outlawed as a casino under Oregon gaming regulations. But Lottery administrators say they see nothing wrong with this lottery row.

We do, however, see something wrong. It's not just the abundance of gambling devices. The Lottery is encouraging all kinds of addictions through the operations thriving at Jantzen Beach.

Tobacco, drugs and alcohol

To meet the requirement that at least half of their revenue come from something other than gambling, the Jantzen Beach's Lottery retailers are selling cigarettes at cut-rate prices. As a result, Vancouver, Wash., residents flock across the border to feed both their gambling and their tobacco habits.

Meanwhile, out in the parking lot that serves the gambling parlors, drug deals are sometimes visible - adding another layer of potentially addictive behavior.

Of course, each establishment has a liquor license and police and others have documented a large amount of criminal activity in the vicinity.

Obviously this isn't what the Oregon Lottery is supposed to be about. The number of gaming devices is supposed to be limited to six at any single location for the very reason of avoiding the types of problems that a casino can create. Lottery officials should be embarrassed that they aren't using enforcement powers they do have - or adopting new rules - to prohibit this overt clustering of gambling devices.

Lottery should reconsider

These are not small, self-contained businesses that coincidentally happen to be located near each other. The strip mall's well-connected owners have chosen to rent all of their space to Lottery vendors, and at least one of the leases reviewed by the Tribune calls for the landlords to collect a portion of the gross revenue from a tenant. Six of the businesses are owned or managed by the company that operates the Dotty's Deli chain - which, as most people know, makes its living not by selling sandwiches, but by maximizing gambling opportunities.

Having all of this vice occurring in such a small area is not in the best interests of the rest of the Jantzen Beach business community - nor is it welcomed by residential neighbors.

Lottery Interim Director Larry Niswender told the Tribune recently that he viewed the Jantzen Beach retailers as 'independent' businesses that each have separate contracts with the Lottery. Based on that, he saw no cause for state action.

Niswender and the Lottery Commission need to take another look at this situation. Businesses that are jointly managed and that share the same facilities are hardly independent. Rather, they form an unattractive casino - one that the Lottery should move to prohibit.

If Lottery officials aren't able or willing to do that, then the Legislature, when it convenes Jan. 10, should rewrite state Lottery laws before these types of quasi-casinos begin to pop up elsewhere in Oregon.