State economists say Oregon is seeing a healthy bump in lottery revenues, at least partially from recently installed video lottery machines.
People are spending more money on Oregon's new video lottery machines, state economists told lawmakers in Salem this week.
Some people believe the new machines are more addictive, but a top Oregon Lottery official has said it's unclear whether there is a connection between the new machines and increase in gambling.
On Dec. 2, economists from the state Office of Economic Analysis said they see a relationship between the new machines and a bump in state lottery revenue.
"We think some of that has to do with the new terminals," said Senior Economist Josh Lehner.
Lehner and state economist Mark McMullen pointed to a graph that showed the latest jump in video lottery spending — the state refers to this as video lottery "sales" — began when the state was installing the new machines and leveled out when there were at least two new machines at every establishment around the state. The state lottery is expected to generate approximately $1.2 billion during the current two-year budget, which is roughly 6 percent of the state's $19.5 billion in available revenue, according to the Legislative Revenue Office.
The importance of gambling to the state budget is an uncomfortable subject for some lawmakers, as was evident when the House and Senate revenue committees discussed the latest forecast. Two Republican lawmakers disagreed with an assertion by state economists that although more low-income people might gamble, wealthy people spend the most on gaming.
"If you look at these places, I don't see any of us in there pulling handles," said state Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas. "I don't see the rich in these establishments ... What I see in my district is the poor playing it."
According to the latest forecast, there were large increases in video lottery gambling even in areas of the state where people continue to struggle after the last recession.
"Even in some of Oregon's hardest hit counties, those that have yet to fully partake in the economic recovery, growth in video lottery sales is roughly 10 percent over the past year, following the roll-out of the new terminals," state economists wrote.
Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, said Oregon's lottery system came about through an initiative petition by a company that produced gaming products. Barnhart said the fact that some people spend a significant amount of their income on the lottery is "probably not a good proposition," but "the fact is the state depends on the revenue these games produce, and that gives us a very ambivalent view of these games."
None of the lawmakers suggested Oregon should scale back its lottery or stop the video lottery machine upgrade, which is budgeted to cost the state $215 million over four years.
Overall, state "vice" revenues — including cigarette and liquor taxes — are on an upward swing, state economists said.
"Boy, vice is still alive and well in Oregon," McMullen said. "While it's encouraging for a bean counter maybe, it's kind of scary because of the Sodom and Gomorrah kind of thing."
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