Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Give that addict another hit

The state of Oregon has an addiction problem, and some people are all too happy to keep feeding that addiction.

That addiction problem was summed up -- inadvertently, I think -- by an editorial in yesterday's Oregonian. In it, the O argued (in the logic of some sort of alternate universe) that the state is addicted to gambling, and the way to solve that problem is to give the state access to greater lottery profits.

While we're at it, let's help conquer smoking addictions with an unlimited supply of cigarettes, and offer free shots for any alcoholics wanting to overcome the demon rum.

What the editorial ostensibly said is that the state gives too much money to lottery retailers and should instead reduce those payouts in order to provide more money for education, parks and economic development.

But in the first 50 words of the editorial, it calls those supposedly-high payouts a "symptom of the state's gambling addiction." As if said addiction can be treated by the temporary high brought about more lottery money. As if the allure of more easy money will put our children's education on Easy Street forevermore, rather than providing a temporary rush until the next budget crisis.

And then there's the problem with the editorial's limited definition of "addiction." It hints at, but never acknowledges, the real addiction -- those people who cannot control the compulsion to feed their paycheck into a video poker machine. This Portland Tribune story from 2005, quoting the manager of a state-sponsored services program for problem gamblers, claims that problem gamblers contribute up to half the state's video gambling revenue. (By the way, 1 percent of lottery proceeds are set aside to help treat gambling addictions, which afflict an estimated 2.5 percent of the public. You do the math.)

Instead, the editorial talks about how the games have became "addictive for players," but only as a way of saying that the lottery has brought more cash into state coffers every year. It claims that the rates paid to retailers "haven't kept up with Oregonians' legendary gambling habits," essentially suggesting there should be some inverse formula that reduces retail payouts as the overall addiction surges.

These claims are ludicrous because of something that seems frequently forgotten in the liberal rush to tax the rich -- the more income a person makes, the more money he pays in taxes, and thus the more money that goes to the government. In the case of the lottery, retailers are making more money from the lottery because the lottery has been more successful every year. When the lottery started in 1985, it contributed $60 million to the state biennial budget; in the most recent figures available from the lottery, the state received almost 12 times that amount.

Don't get me wrong -- I will not defend retailers who claim poverty because the state wants to reduce the percentage it pays to those retailers (other than to insist that the state live up to the contracts it signed with those retailers), and I'm not interested in arguing over the definition of a "reasonable rate of return" for those who provide lottery access.

Yes, the retailers are taking home a much larger amount of money -- although a smaller percentage of each sale -- because Oregon is addicted to the lottery. Lawmakers are addicted to the money, using it for key functions such as education (which receives almost two-thirds of lottery proceeds). State residents are addicted to the thrill of the big payoff, providing a 23 percent increase in participation over the previous biennium.

But for the Oregonian, the only addiction worth discussing is the one that gives retailers too much of the take -- and it thinks those other addictions are easily ignored if it can just get the cash for one more fix.

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  • At 3/31/2008 6:44 PM, Blogger OregonGuy said…

    Oregon's Department of Human Services cites 75,000 problem gamblers in Oregon.

    The corruption is clear. It's linear. The Oregon Lottery does horrible things. To individuals, to families, to children.

    75,000 problem gamblers. Oh, and Global Warming.


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