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Lottery director addresses chamber at height of Powerball fever

Jack Roberts discusses finer points of Oregon Lottery at luncheon

While speaking to a Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored luncheon on Tuesday, Oregon Lottery Director Jack Roberts confessed he's not much of a gambler.

"I admit, I've never played the lottery ... (although) $1.5 billion might change that," he said, referring to the ballooning Powerball jackpot and the related mania leading to Wednesday night's number drawing. "I might play that if I could, but I can't."CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Jack Roberts, Oregon Lottery director

As the keynote speaker at the chamber's Business and Leaders Luncheon held at the Persimmon Country Club conference center on Southeast Butler Road, Roberts talked about his and his agency's role in the Oregon Lottery as well as the multi-state Powerball and MegaMillions games. The former has created a mid-winter ticket-buying frenzy as the Powerball jackpot soared toward $2 billion.

"We were one of the first," Roberts said of Oregon being a MegaMillions, but not Powerball-participating state. "In 1984, you had to do one or the other. Washington and California were competition. In 2010, we said, 'Heck with that, let's have both.'"

Both multi-state and especially Oregon Lottery game revenue goes to fund a multitude of programs and projects designed to benefit the public, such as school districts, infrastructure improvements and watershed and salmon restoration. A small percentage of lottery revenue goes toward treatment of gambling addiction.

"A Powerball ticket costs $2," Roberts said. "Half of that goes into the jackpot, the other half with the state. Sixteen percent goes to overhead costs and the rest goes to schools, watershed improvements" and other public improvement projects. "When you play and lose, you're still helping to pay for critical state services."

Roberts, 63, served as Oregon Commissioner of Labor and Industries from 1995 to 2003 after serving as a Lane County commissioner from 1989 to 1995. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for Oregon governor in 2002 and for the U.S. Senate in 1996.

After serving as executive director of Lane Metro Partnership, Gov. Kate Brown appointed the Eugene resident as Lottery director.

Responding to a question from an attendee about the demographics of Oregon's frequent lottery players, Roberts said participants, with the exception of relatively unrepresented 20-somethings, "mirror the public at large in most respects.

"It skews a little older," he said. "Once you get into the 30s, 40s and 50s, it pretty much mirrors the population."

Stressing the lengths his agency goes to to avoid predatory or misleading advertising, he disputed the idea that the lottery preys on the poor and disenfranchised.

"We don't have any evidence to suggest its mostly poor people trying to get rich," Roberts said. "It's mostly middle income people playing the lotto for entertainment. We do watch that. We want to know who our customer base is."

Lynn Snodgrass, Gresham chamber Chief Executive Officer, said she booked Roberts as a speaker weeks before Powerball fever set in, but was nonetheless thrilled with how the timing turned out.

"I knew Jack would deliver an honest, entertaining presentation, and not be afraid of any question," she said. "Jack knows a lot about a lot. He has a breadth and wealth of knowledge. The Oregon Lottery is in great hands."