FORMER LOTTERY COMMISSION CHAIRMAN WEIGHS IN ON MEASURES 82/83

From The Statesman Journal:

Statement by Steven Ungar, Portland lawyer and former chairman of the Oregon Lottery Commission, on Measures 82/83, which were studied by the Citizens’ Initiative Review in August.  (See my story on Measures 82/83 posted Sunday, Oct. 7)

It was an honor to appear before the Citizens’ Initiative Review panel, which released its analysis of Measure 82 after voting 17-7 to recommend voting against this proposed amendment to the Oregon Constitution.

I wanted to go on record as the former chair of the Oregon Lottery Commission, which I served as a volunteer for more than seven years (2005-12).  As a commissioner, I had the privilege to work with fellow commissioners, the Legislature, the Governor’s Office and Lottery personnel, to strike the appropriate balances in offering limited, highly regulated gambling options to the public.  My paramount objective as a Commissioner was to participate in the political process, by helping the Lottery build a strong, stable revenue source for Oregon to rely upon in years to come.

From questions considered at the CIR panel hearing — and the CIR’s final report — I’m gratified that a clear majority of panel members agreed that the private casino measure is a bad idea and should be rejected by the voters, as it has been in the past.  Measure 82 would predictably cause significant damage to the Oregon Lottery and all of the programs and beneficiaries the Lottery funds.  It utilizes the Constitution as a means to directly support a single private business enterprise, presented in a way that is not supported by facts but is speculative at best.

No one can predict how much loss the Lottery would suffer, if a private casino were approved to compete directly with the Lottery.  But it’s clear:  there would losses and they would be substantial.

Like the CIR majority, after studying all of the data available, plus, based on my experience with the Lottery (and a touch of common sense), I’m confident that the measure would result in a net financial loss to the people of Oregon, who depend on the Lottery as a stable source for funding education, parks, economic development and clean water.

This loss could be huge and damage a system that has developed and matured over time in a sustainable way.  The Lottery has gradually expanded and increased its revenues and transfers to the state for the past two decades.  It has built and supported a network of some 5,000 retailers, most of which are small and medium-sized businesses that have invested heavily in the Lottery’s programs, their communities and local economies across the state.  This system is at risk if a mega-casino is built in one of the Lottery’s main profit centers.

The proponents of this measure will likely respond by saying that even though they propose only a 25 percent net revenue transfer (compared to the Lottery’s 65 percent), the huge anticipated profits from their casino will more than offset the losses to Lottery programs.  Besides being entirely speculative, compared with the Lottery’s proven track record, these projections are premised on completely transforming the Lottery and its role in funding critical programs and services, especially for kids.

Currently, two-year budget numbers from the Oregon Governor’s office assume over $1 billion in Lottery proceeds.  While I emphatically support private enterprise and investors willing to take risks and help put more Oregonians to work, this pathway to a private casino is ill-conceived and not in the public’s best interests.  I am hopeful that when they vote, the voters will side with the CIR panel.

(end of statement)

– Peter Wong

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