Aug. 15, 2013 – “To change course so dramatically is really kind of a sad day for Oregon,” said Jeff Marotta, who runs Problem Gambling Solutions in Portland, after the Oregon Lottery stopped advertisements suggesting problem gamblers find help.
Earlier this year, Lottery Director Larry Niswender asked the state’s Justice Department for an opinion regarding the Lottery’s funding of responsible gaming initiatives.
In consideration of seven questions Niswender posed, the Justice Department opinion, written by Chief Counsel Steve Wolf, found that court opinions over the years did, in fact, prohibit the Lottery from spending administrative dollars -technically proceeds gathered through sales – on problem gambling or mental health initiatives.
State lawmakers could require the state lottery to employ an adviser on problem gambling, whose salary would be paid with administrative funds, but the adviser’s activities would fall into a category outside of the administrative needs of Oregon’s Lottery:
“Any duties related to such tasks as addressing “problem gambling” generally or mitigating the harms associated with playing lottery games must be funded with proceeds other than lottery administrative funds,” Wolf said.
Part of the problem with participating in problem gambling initiatives – like the Oregon Council on Problem Gambling – is that those initiatives are not directly related to “[implementing] the state Lottery.”
Wolf’s discussion pointed to a legislative statute from 1984 that acknowledged “the need for [gambling addiction programs] may result in part from the operation of the lottery,” but that funding for these programs could not be considered “costs of management.”
This does not mean that the Lottery should be unconcerned with problem gambling or promoting responsible gaming. In fact, Wolf’s opinion holds that promoting responsible gaming is part of the Lottery’s mission.
However, urging problem gamblers to seek treatment is not.
Marotta criticized the Justice Department’s ruling, telling Oregonlive.com it was “ludicrous.”
“What this says is do everything you can to promote responsible gambling, but once someone crosses over, you can’t use your funds to help them,” Marotta said.
While the Lottery has terminated its problem gambling ads, and ended its membership with the Oregon Council on Problem Gambling, it “remains committed to working with the problem gambling community to make sure the Lottery is operating in the most responsible way possible,” said Elisa Dozono, chairperson of the Oregon Lottery Commission.
Lottery spokesman Chuck Baumann told Oregonlive.com that the Lottery is already planning new ads that will stress responsible gaming through setting money and time limits on gambling – but not crossing the fine line set by Wolf’s ruling.
The Lottery’s problem gambling ads have run sporadically for almost 20 years, and Baumann acknowledged that the Lottery’s decision to end the program could have an impact on the number of people who seek help for problem gambling.
Estimates place the number of problem gamblers in Oregon at more than 80,000, but only a small percentage seek help.
The Oregon Health Authority, which receives Lottery funding every other year for problem gambling, is not prepared to shoulder the burden now that the Lottery has withdrawn efforts against problem gambling.
Addiction Services Manager Nicole Corbin said the Health Authority doesn’t have the resources; the $10 million in funding the Lottery sends to the Health Authority is already earmarked for their current programs.
“You don’t hear messages about problem gambling from anyone other than the lottery and the Oregon Health Authority,” Corbin said. “If they are not providing the information, there’s really not any replacement for that.”