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.

 

 

Is the #Ilani Casino going to cannibalize the Oregon lottery?

IlaniOpeningDay

Opening day at the Ilani Casino

The word Ilani means “sing” in the Cowlitz language. The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is surely singing the praises of the thousands of Oregonians gambling at the tribe’s new $510 million Ilani Casino near La Center, WA.

The attitude at the Oregon Lottery is not quite so buoyant.

In September 2016, the state’s Office of Economic Analysis (OEA) predicted a decrease in lottery sales of approximately $120 million per year in the 2015-2017 biennium due to the opening of the casino, particularly because of a slowdown of the rate of Video Lottery growth.

The Video Lottery is the Oregon Lottery’s cash cow.

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 raw reality at video lottery sites in Oregon is usually quite different. On a recent afternoon, all the machines at one site in Hillsboro were being used only by solitary, slightly disheveled men and women in jeans and sweatshirts.

All of them looked hypnotized by the glow of the screen in front of them. Almost motionless, except for the rapid movement of their hands to push the play buttons, they sat mute in the dim light.

MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll knows such people 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.”

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.

Oregon’s approximately 11,909 Video Lottery terminals deployed throughout the state are now a major part of a rising river of lottery money flooding Oregon. The money has turned the state into an addict as Oregon’s total lottery take has gone from $87.8 million in 1986 to $ 1,230,189,728 in the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2016. Video Lottery has been responsible for most of that growth, taking in $876,475,310 in FY16, 71.3 percent of total revenue.

To say the least, the Oregon lottery is a very big business.

The Ilani Casino has already shown it can attract huge crowds and their gambling dollars and the Cowlitz expect millions of guests. Who wouldn’t prefer to gamble at a Vegas-style over-the-top casino just 25 miles north of downtown Portland instead of at a dark, claustrophobic room in a roadside strip mall.

So, will Ilani cannibalize sales from state lottery operations?

Some studies offer strong evidence that it will. An analysis of the relationship between Indian casinos and state lottery revenue in Arizona found that a 10 percent increase in the number of casino slot machines was associated with a 2.8 percent decline in lottery sales. Another study found that riverboat gambling expenditures had a negative and statistically significant impact on state lottery revenues, while a third study found that an increase of $1 in commercial casino revenues reduces net lottery revenues by $0.56.

In Maryland, the opening of casinos affected lottery revenue almost immediately, with traditional lottery sales decreasing by 2.2 percent in fiscal year 2013 and 1.7 percent in 2014, raising fears of a continuing downward slide. But revenue has since rebounded to $1.76 billion in FY15 and $1.9 million in FY16.

Pennsylvania’s lottery was on a roll, too, with steadily increasing sales, but beginning in 2006, when casinos began to open across the state, lottery sales leveled off and then declined. The hardest hit locales in terms of traditional lottery sales were close by areas within a one hour drive. But, as in Maryland, the downward trend was temporary. Pennsylvania’s lottery sales have gone up every year since 2010 and in FY16 the lottery posted record revenue of $4.1 billion.

In Massachusetts, lottery sales didn’t decrease statewide after a casino opened in June 2015, but lottery revenues for agents nearer the casino grew more slowly on average than the rest of the state.

Ilani’s impact on the Oregon Lottery may well follow the pattern in other states, with sales affected most significantly in the Portland Metro Area, particularly in areas that border Washington, and with video lottery being the hardest hit.

According to a March 2017 report by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, more than half of Oregon’s statewide video lottery sales occur within the Portland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). About 11 percent of statewide video lottery sales occur within just the northern portion of the Portland MSA – from the St. John’s neighborhood through the Parkrose neighborhood, including Hayden Island.

Anecdotal evidence, plus statistical analysis, indicated that the border effect with the State of Washington, which does not have video lottery in its bars and restaurants, was large, the report said.

This is particularly true directly across the two interstate bridges in Portland. If these northern Portland zip codes see a 40-50 percent decline in video lottery sales, the report said, that means total statewide video lottery sales would decline 4.5 to 5.5 percent. Factoring in additional losses of around 10-15 percent throughout the rest of the Portland region brings the total impact to nearly 12 percent, relative to no casino baseline.

But if the experience of other states holds true, the negative impact of Ilani on even video lottery games in Oregon may not last.

Richard McGowan, a professor at Boston College and an expert on the economics of gambling, explains that the limited impact of casinos on lottery receipts is because the customer bases for lotteries and casinos also don’t overlap as much as people might assume. “Most lottery tickets are bought on impulse when people go in to buy milk and gasoline,” McGowan said. “You have to plan to go to a casino.”

Ilani is, however, likely to impact Oregon’s entertainment venues over the long term. Gaming serves as a substitute for other forms of entertainment, so the more Oregonians go to Ilani to entertain themselves, the less money they will spend in Oregon. But that’s another story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Washington County or Casino County?

By Bill MacKenzie

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.

Dede’s Café, hiding off to the side in the Hillsboro Promenade at the corner of Southwest Baseline Road and Southwest Cornelius Pass Road in Hillsboro, is the raw reality of the casino Washington County has become.

At Dede’s, six video lottery machines with brightly lit screens are crammed into a space not much more expansive than a large walk-in closet. On a recent mid-afternoon visit, I found all the machines being used by solitary, slightly disheveled men and women in jeans and sweatshirts.

All of them looked hypnotized by the glow of the screen in front of them. Almost motionless, except for the rapid movement of their hands to push the play buttons, they sat mute in the dim light.

A man with a black hat pulled down over his gray hair slipped a $10 bill in one machine and started briskly tapping the play buttons. He got up to $46.45 on Game of Dragons II, but didn’t take his winnings and celebrate. Instead, in a few minutes he fell back to $5.19.

Switching to a Zeus game, he bounced up to $23.49. When he went to $6, he shifted to another game. After 20 minutes of play, when he was down to 35 cents, he slipped in another $20 bill and resumed play.

MIT anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll knows such people 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.”

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.

Dede’s Café is now part of a rising river of lottery money flooding Oregon. The money has turned the county and the state into unwitting addicts as Oregon’s lottery take has gone from $87.8 million in 1986 to $1.1 billion in 2013. It’s a very big business.

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.

In fiscal year 2013, 204 lottery retailers in Washington County generated net receipts of $87.7 million from 1,035 video terminals, almost equal to the number of video slot machines at the Wildhorse Casino in Pendleton.

The numbers are even more impressive when you combine net receipts from video terminals with sales of traditional games, such as scratch-its and Megabucks. Together, these totaled $125.7 million in all of Washington County.

Washington County sees a return from all this gambling activity in the form of direct and indirect jobs and money the state devotes to parks, natural resources, education and various economic development efforts.

The county also receives direct payments equal to 2.5 percent of lottery proceeds. This money must be applied to economic development/job creation programs, liberating county revenue for other priorities.

But the lottery bounty also means the county and state are increasingly relying on the generous flow of lottery dollars, which are not a dependable or sustainable source of revenue. If lottery revenue declines, or even fails to grow, a lot of established programs could face tough adjustments.

Washington County residents are getting decidedly mixed messages. On the one hand, business and government leaders are aggressively delivering messages about the importance of education and hard work in achieving success.

At the same time, the lottery undermines the messages by constantly suggesting in tantalizing ads and much ballyhooed winner announcements that riches are just one lucky ticket or one play away.

So go ahead. Make your wager. Just remember that in the end, the house always wins.

Bill MacKenzie is a former congressional staff member, newspaper reporter and communications manager for a Hillsboro company.

Originally published in the Hillsboro Tribune,  Nov. 11, 2013