Oregon’s lottery provides $1 billion every biennium to help pay the state’s bills, but it leaves some people uneasy about its effect on problem gamblers.
Three bills filed for consideration by the 2013 Legislature seek to address those concerns. Unfortunately, they’re unlikely to make a meaningful difference.
House Bill 2163 would require the lottery director to hire a person to give advice on mental health and addiction issues to the director and the lottery commission. House Bill 2166 would add education about gambling and drinking problems to classes for alcohol servers. And House Bill 2167 would change the lottery’s stated mission, no longer requiring it to maximize revenues. It would cap the amount of revenue that can go to the general fund, and send anything over that amount to a rainy day fund.
The idea of capping revenue comes from the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, which is interested in lessening the worry that pressure for more income from the lottery leads to actions that encourage addicts.
The bills show they were filed at the request of the House Interim Committee on Human Services, and The Oregonian says the sponsor is Rep. Carolyn Tomei, a Democrat from Milwaukie. The newspaper says Tomei wants to add controls to lessen the misery of problem gamblers, and she’s finding some support for these ideas: “I’ve been working on this issue for years, and this is the closest I’ve come to getting any kind of traction.”
Tomei has correctly targeted an uncomfortable truth: Oregon’s state budget benefits from the losses of problem gamblers. It’s also true, though, that thousands of Oregonians enjoy playing the games and don’t develop any problems. And at a time of severe budget constraints, the state is not about to walk away from $1 billion per biennium.
So what to do with that tension? Continue to focus on programs that help connect problem gamblers with the help they need, not on new legislation that seems unlikely to make a difference.