Across Oregon, delis that seem to specialize in lottery more than lunch pose a dilemma.
The businesses generate profits to the owners and the Oregon Lottery, supplying an increasingly vital portion of the state general-fund budget. But critics say these establishments cause more social ills and violate a state constitutional prohibition of lottery casinos.
"These are casinos doing business under the guise of being a restaurant, a tavern," said David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, a coalition of 17 Christian congregations.
The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that a handful of video poker terminals at a neighborhood tavern or deli don't constitute a casino unless gambling was the "dominant use or dominant purpose" of the business.
But the definition leaves lots of wiggle room, and lottery director Dale Penn is trying to make the rules firm. His proposal, which was discussed at a public hearing in Salem on Tuesday, says lottery retailers must not generate more than half their revenue from gambling.
He also proposes expanded criteria to evaluate whether a business is a casino: How does it advertise? Does it offer a full menu, or just one or two sandwiches? What's its name? (One Portland establishment is called Nick's Double Up Deli).
A few residents showed up at lottery headquarters for the hearing. One was Jim Sterup of Salem, who said he worked for 20 years as a craps-table pit boss in Reno, Nev., and Atlantic City, N.J. Sterup asked lottery officials to curb "hole-in-the-wall" lottery delis, where state lottery terminals are the main form of business.
"I believe that everyone understands that we have let casinos operate in the state of Oregon and we need to correct that situation," Sterup said.
Two interest groups submitted comments. The Oregon Restaurant Association, which represents lottery retailers, endorsed the proposed rules. Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon said the rules give too much discretion to the lottery director.