Lawmakers are counting on the Oregon State Lottery to gin up an extra $67 million. It's in the budget plan that's steaming through the assembly en route to the governor's desk.
The Senate on Saturday voted 18-9 to change the law so bars and taverns can add a sixth video poker terminal - a move that's projected to generate $22 million.
But how exactly the lottery is supposed to come up with the remaining $45 million is up in the air.
"We leave that to the able discretion of the governor and the Lottery Commission," said House Revenue Committee Chairman Lane Shetterly, R-Dallas. "They've got some options."
Those options have been well known after years of debate and discussion: reducing bar and tavern owners' slice of video gambling profits and adding slot-machine-style "line games" to the lottery's mix.
But Senate Democratic Leader Kate Brown of Portland said lawmakers from both parties have decided against passing a bill indicating whether either of the two options should be part of the revenue-raising solution to generate the $67 million because they're too politically charged for lawmakers to agree on.
"That's why you're not going to get the Legislature to do that," she said.
The Oregon Restaurant Association, a big donor to Republican legislative candidates, vehemently opposes reductions in the commissions paid to bar and tavern owners. And anti-gambling groups and Oregon's Indian tribes with casinos have opposed the expansion of gambling to include slot games. These two interests have supporters among members of both parties, but particularly among Democrats.
Kulongoski has opposed expansion of state-run gambling, but earlier this year expressed a willingness to consider the addition of slot machine games to the video terminals in bars and taverns.
Aides to Kulongoski said that if the Legislature is expecting the governor to give the go-ahead to the Lottery Commission to reduce retailer commissions, add slot-machine games or both, they want a bill passed indicating that intent.
"If not," said adviser Pat Egan, "then there's going to be a gap that's unaccounted for. How it's going to get resolved is up in the air."
A bill considered earlier this session would have reduced video poker retailers' commissions from 32 percent on average to 15 percent of net proceeds. That would have shifted about $75 million away from bars, taverns and restaurant lounges each year, making the money available instead for state spending.
That bill, sponsored by Sen. Tony Corcoran, D-Cottage Grove, has stalled without a vote in the Senate.
No bills have been pushed instructing the expansion into slot-machine games, but such a move has been projected to raise about $80 million to $100 million a year.
If the Legislature ends up adjourning without taking up the question of slot-style gambling or reductions in bar and tavern owners' share of lottery profits, it will be up to the governor and the Lottery Commission, made up of gubernatorial appointees.
Mike McCallum, head of the Oregon Restaurant Association, said the behind-the-scenes discussions about changing the rules for bar and tavern owners makes him nervous, since neither he nor the lobbyists he employs have been involved.
"For the governor and the Legislature to be concocting some sort of backroom plan on how these retailers are going to operate is shortsighted and inappropriate," he said.