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Merkley joins lottery reform effort


Clackamas County representatives’ efforts to reform the Oregon Lottery added their biggest endorsement yet to the momentum they’ve already generated: U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon).

As the Legislature convened this month, Merkley wished his friend and former colleague, state Rep. Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie), the “best of luck in tackling this key issue.”

Merkley recognized Tomei, chairwoman of the House Human Services Committee, as the longest-term leader on lottery reform, and the senator was pleased she is continuing the fight for addiction and mental health resources for Oregon families struggling with gambling addiction.

“I wanted to call her and thank her for her concern,” Merkley said.

Tomei’s bills have generated bipartisan support and are making progress through legislative committees. state Rep. Bill Kennemer (R-Clackamas County) is co-sponsoring Tomei’s bills.

House Bill 2167 would cap the state’s financial addiction to lottery revenue at about $1 billion per biennium. HB 2166 would require alcohol-server licensing education to include curriculum on how to identify problem gambling. HB 2163 would require the lottery to hire an expert on mental health (“Momentum builds for Oregon Lottery reforms,” Jan. 9).

Merkley added that he hadn’t been closely watching the traction that the bills had been getting in the Legislature. But the senator has been seeing newspaper articles about the issue and perceived that 2013 could be historic in reform efforts.

Merkley, as a state representative in the early 2000s, struggled to pass lottery-reform measures. As a longtime advocate of making sure that the Oregon Lottery adequately provides resources for gambling addiction, he believes too many families across the state struggle emotionally and financially because of addicted relatives.

“I felt that to be responsible, the Oregon Lottery should put something on its billboards saying something like: ‘Warning: gambling is dangerous to your financial health,’” Merkley recalled.

Merkley’s bill passed the Oregon House, but the senate did not pass it because of concern about the billboard industry. In last-second negotiations with Bill Witt (R-Beaverton), who was a sponsor from the majority party at the time, Merkley struggled to change the warnings that say, “Lottery games should not be played for investment purpo ses.”

Merkley especially hopes that the Oregon Lottery is mandated to hire a mental-health specialist, as Tomei and Kennemer propose. Merkley expects the expert would help revise the billboards to use a phrase such as “problem gambling” and information on contacting the state’s website for gambling treatment, 1877mylimit.org.