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Lawmakers back lottery reforms

Clackamas County legislators lead charge on Lottery Row fight


Veteran lawmakers from Clackamas County plan to lead the charge to reform the Oregon Lottery.

Longtime lottery critics Bill Kennemer, a Republican who lives south of Oregon City, and Carolyn Tomei, a Milwaukie Democrat, have enlisted the support of Alissa Keny-Guyer, a Northeast Portland Democrat, and Julie Parrish, a West Linn Republican, in their attempt to pass two bills.

Larry Niswender, Oregon Lottery director since 2010, and newly appointed Lottery Commission Chairwoman Elisa Dozono have been amenable to past reforms.

One new bill drafted by the lawmakers would mandate that 18 percent of net lottery proceeds go to education and 15 percent to the state’s Parks and Natural Resource Fund, with the remainder going to the Administrative Services Economic Development Fund or a new Rainy Day Lottery Fund. Another proposal would require the lottery to hire a mental health expert who would help guide policy to make games less addictive.

“The lottery has more than 400 employees, and we’re just asking that one person has mental health and addiction background to look at machines to slow them down and stop asking for more money,” Tomei says. “It takes seconds to play a full game, and it’s so mesmerizing that people can play and play for hours and hours. If you’re one number off, it gives the impression that next time you’ll win.”

Kennemer was personally “horrified” that embezzlement cases in the Estacada Fire District and in West Linn were connected to the lottery. Both he and Tomei say that these are not isolated incidents.

“I have a nephew, and most everyone else does have someone they know who’s been affected,” Kennemer says. “One in every seven people regularly play the lottery, and this is an astounding number that’s having a dramatic negative impact statewide, not just with these cases.”

“The majority of people who put money in there are big users, so I got to the point to realize that lottery addiction is difficult to treat, and it’s also hard to talk with people about,” Tomei said.

Last month, the Human Services Committee, where Tomei is chairwoman in January, introduced the draft bills. House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland, who has advocated for ways to curtail Jantzen Beach’s “Lottery Row” of 12 side-by-side retailers all offering booze and state video lottery gaming, begins assigning some of the hundreds of proposed bills to committees next week.

Exploring ideas

Tomei and Kennemer are confident that the Jantzen Beach Supercenter on Hayden Island will help persuade Kotek and other legislators to move one or both bills toward legislative votes. They say Clackamas County has its own “Lottery Row,” a miles-long stretch of McLoughlin Boulevard mini-malls between Gladstone and Milwaukie with a high concentration of strip clubs, lottery machines and fast food.

“I’m really optimistic that we can make some progress,” Tomei says.

Another initiative, which Tomei acknowledges would be the toughest to pass, would cap the amount that the Lottery would be able to raise in an effort to control its revenue. Powerball morphed into line games that Tomei says are increasingly addictive, both for players and state coffers.

“This is not a benign source of money for the Legislature, and 70,000 to 80,000 people statewide are addicted,” Tomei says. “We can’t be sending mixed messages that we want you to curtail the behavior of people who are addicted and we also want you to raise more money.”

Lottery revenue was less than $100 million in 1986. During the past fiscal year ending in June, the lottery raked in more than $1 billion statewide and gave out about $238.3 million in prizes. Not including video lottery products, Clackamas County residents play about $30 million annually, says lottery spokesman Ray Martin. A total of 332 Clackamas County outlets sold almost $102 million for the lottery last year, or 9.59 percent of the statewide total.

Since odds are calculated statewide, prize winners of more than $600 for all Oregon Lottery games fluctuate for the county between about $7 million and $20 million annually. More than $48 million went from the Lottery to fund Clackamas County school districts, parks, transportation projects and other local initiatives during the past biennium.

Tomei says that she’d be willing to negotiate with other lawmakers about where to set the statewide cap.

“If I could set that number lower I would, but as legislators we have to be pragmatic about setting a reasonable cap,” she says. “Let’s explore a number of ideas and see how they’re all interconnected and important.”