The Oregon lottery: It does bad things

videolottery

That giant sucking sound you hear is the Oregon Lottery making off with millions of dollars from Oregonians’ pockets as it keeps adding games to feed the addiction. It’s clear the legislature is just as addicted to the lottery as the players.

In the 2016-17 fiscal year, Oregon lottery players just in my town, Lake Oswego, spent about $5.2 million, according to the Lake Oswego Review. Think about that. $5.2 million generated in one year by a small town of about 39,000 people. That’s $133 for every man, woman and child.

One video Lottery outlet alone, the Speakeasy Bar and Grill at 15700 SW Upper Boones Ferry Rd in Lake Oswego, pulled in $928,932 from Video Lottery last year.

Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved the lottery in 1984. It launched in 1985 at a Portland event featuring an 84-foot-tall inflatable King Kong, perhaps symbolizing the behemoth the lottery would become.

Now there’s a rising river of lottery money flooding Oregon. The money has turned the state itself into an addict as Oregon’s lottery take has gone from $87.8 million in 1986 to $1.2 billion in 2016. It’s a very big business, with most of the filthy lucre coming from video lottery games.

The Lottery has approximately 12,000 Video Lottery terminals deployed throughout the state. In Fiscal Year 2016, Video Lottery games brought in $876.5 million in revenues, 70 percent of total lottery revenues.

You know the typical casino ad. The gorgeous blonde’s crystal blue eyes gaze adoringly at the urbane, fashionably dressed man as he places a bet. The couple is surrounded by smiling, equally fashionable friends enjoying the gaiety.

You almost expect Jay Gatsby to stroll into the scene from West Egg and enjoy the fun.

The lottery wants you to see video lottery in a similar way, smiling, lighthearted people engaging in social activity. I guarantee you, that’s not the way it is. Go into any location offering video lottery and you’ll likely encounter a depressing, joyless scene of dispirited, melancholy people mesmerized by a glowing screen.

MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll knows Video Lottery players well. In her book, “Addiction by Design,” she shows how the rhythm of gambling at electronic terminals puts people into a trancelike state in which gamblers keep playing not to win, but so they can stay “in the game” and maximize their “time on device.”

The lure of raking in lottery dollars without having to raise taxes has long been appealing to politicians anxious to satiate government’s insatiable thirst for revenue. In fact, the lottery is often referred to as a “voluntary tax,” though Schüll’s research calls the “voluntary” part into question.

The major problem with state lotteries is that they’re constantly having to come up with new ways to take people’s money because players get bored with the same old thing. “…when sales are adjusted for inflation, … eleven years without novelty or expansion in game categories or sales channels has resulted in flat playership trends and sales that lag behind levels achieved before the economic downturn,” said an Oregon Lottery briefing document.

So the Lottery says it plans to “Modernize our gaming platforms to keep pace with the industry.” Translation – its considering sports wagering games and offering traditional lottery games on mobile devices such as smartphones, giving gamblingaddicts an opportunity to feed their addiction 24/7 as they become dependent on playing the lottery despite the negative consequences on them, their families, jobs and so on.

What’s next?

Oregon Lottery games like craps, slots, blackjack, and roulette using real money?

Don’t count that out, because legislators are addicted, too.

 

 

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