Oregon Lottery drops effort to help problem gamblers

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Lottery is no longer paying for ads to help addicted gamblers.

The decision, first reported by The Oregonian newspaper, follows a state Justice Department opinion that said the job of lottery officials is to run a lottery, with the proceeds going toward economic development, public education and protecting the environment.

Using money to reach out to problem gamblers is not part of that mission, the department said.

The lottery can still run ads that promote responsible gambling, and 1 percent of lottery profits will continue to go to the Oregon Health Authority. The health agency received about $10 million for the two-year budget cycle, with the money going toward treatment for gambling addiction.

State money helped 1,321 problem gamblers and 179 beleaguered relatives in the fiscal year that ended in 2012.

“This really clarified that the treatment funds that go to OHA really are the most appropriate funds to use for problem gambling treatment and prevention-focused media,” said Larry Niswender, director of the Oregon State Lottery. The lottery spent $1.5 million on television ads for problem gambling in the most recent fiscal year.

Voters amended the Oregon Constitution in 1984 to establish the lottery. Expert estimate that 81,000 Oregonians have a gambling problem, and video lottery terminals — rather than sports or non-video poker— are the leading source of the addiction. The machines are found in many bars in Oregon, providing a convenient way to quickly lose a lot of money.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that the Legislature erred when it passed a law requiring the lottery to spend operating money on community mental health programs for gambling addicts. The Justice Department cited that ruling in the opinion it delivered to Niswender in March.

The opinion said the promotion of responsible gambling is part of the lottery’s mission.

“Be healthy, set a budget, set a limit, play for enjoyment,” Niswender said. “We want healthy players. We want a lot of people to play a little.”

In light of the opinion, the Health Authority is looking for additional money to keep the ads going. Nicole Corbin, addiction services manager, said diverting treatment dollars into advertising is not the preferred option.

“We’re concerned that if we don’t find some way to replace those ads that the lottery does, that there will be impact on driving people into treatment, because people just aren’t aware that this is something that’s available,” she said. “The message needs to be out there, that people who are impacted by problem gambling can get help.”

Besides pulling the ads, lottery officials will stop participating in the Oregon Council on Problem Gambling and no longer attend conferences on problem gambling.

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