March 9th, 2005 Marty Smith, Ww Editorial Staff | Special Section Stories
 

1991

     
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Oregon's 10,250 video-poker machines fleece gamblers out of $530 million a year.

Drawing to an Inside Straight

BY MARTY SMITH

Drooling and unshaven, the state of Oregon lies slumped in its chair, wracked by uncontrollable need. The once-proud state's hands scrabble clawlike through hundreds of bars and restaurants, trying desperately to assemble enough cash for one more fix. "I can quit any time I want to," it mutters aloud. "Next biennium, maybe, I'll give it up."

But not this biennium, thinks the state. This biennium I need it too badly. Scraping up the last of the precious lottery funds, the governmental entity hurriedly injects the cash directly into its revenue stream, feeling the warm rush of over half a billion dollars flowing through its coffers.

The sickness began back in 1984, when Oregonians approved a pair of measures enabling Salem to dabble with an increasingly popular drug-delivery system known as the state lottery. Within a few years, legislators were already feeding a $55 million-a-year lottery habit.

But that was nothing compared to what lay

in store. Because 1991 was the year we graduated to the hard stuff-the Legislature approved video poker.

Video poker earned (if that's the word) $77 million in its first year. Today, the state's 10,250 machines suck away about $530 million a year-roughly $21 every second they're switched on.

Say what you will about the state muscling organized crime out of the numbers racket-that money has created a lot of jobs. Higher education, state parks and economic-development programs have all felt the benefit of the lottery's largesse. Restaurant and bar owners, with their hefty commissions, love video poker, too.

The question is, do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Walk into any tavern in the state, day or night, and more than likely you'll see a row of video poker's victims, their faces bathed in a blue glow, slavishly feeding their paychecks to the machine, their craving punctuated by a synthetic snippet of Handel's Messiah (and it's hard to imagine a more crass repurposing of a piece of sacred music), chasing the Big Payoff one $20 bill at a time.

According to the Department of Human Services, roughly 60,000 Oregonians-2.3 percent of the state's adult population-are problem gamblers. (For scale, 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War.) And 72 percent of them say their main problem is-surprise, surprise-video poker.

The reality is that Oregon is so hooked on video poker there's zero chance of the Legislature giving it up. And just wait 'til slot machines start showing up in July. The bitter truth is that we'd rather step over some touchscreen junkies than see our property taxes go up.

Question Mark

BY WW EDITORIAL STAFF

U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield finds his halo tarnished by some questionable favors. Turns out his son attended the University of South Carolina on an $11,000 scholarship awarded by USC president James Holderman, who also gave Hatfield $9,300 in gifts. (USC won a $16 million construction grant from Hatfield's Appropriations Committee.) Second, Hatfield's daughter attended Oregon Health & Science University under a special policy instituted by OHSU President Peter Kohler. (Hatfield funneled more than $91 million to the university during the previous decade.) Hatfield denies any wrongdoing but admits he should have declared the gifts. He is eventually rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee, but his misdeeds will soon be eclipsed by the Packwood follies.

It's A Small World, After All

It was the classic suburban nightmare. Diane Walden (center), a middle-aged mom who ran a Raleigh Hills daycare, and family friend Peter Rudge, 13 (left), disappear without a trace after a golf outing. Were they kidnapped? Murdered? Then WW publishes a story suggesting that the odd couple ran away together. Days later, they're apprehended in the parking lot of a New Jersey casino on their way to Walt Disney World.


* Hundreds of Portlanders take to the streets to protest Operation Desert Storm but are outnumbered by demonstrators supporting U.S. troops. Traditional pacifist hotbeds put in a token appearance (three Reedies are arrested for blocking the sidewalk), but it's clear that anti-war activism is on the wane.

* The Portland School District admits it hushed up a 14 percent pay raise for support staff, lest it provide ammunition for proponents of tax-cutting Measure 5. The district winds up with the worst of both worlds: The measure passed anyway, and now its credibility is shot.

* The City Council rolls out the red carpet for Vietnamese potbellied pigs, approving a special exception to an ordinance banning swine within city limits.

* Deep Throat winds up its final reel when the 67-year-old Aladdin Theater is bought by violin repairman Paul Schuback and reincarnated as a performance venue and art-film house.

* AIDS becomes the top killer of men ages 25 to 44 in Multnomah County.

* In his 90s and still working, the elegant Italian-cum-Portlander architect Pietro Belluschi is awarded the National Medal of Arts. Belluschi's legacy includes the Equitable-the city's first modernist office building-the Portland Art Museum, the Waddles sign and New York's Pan Am Building.

* Mayor Bud Clark mails out 19,600 invitations to a $100-a-plate black-tie fundraising dinner to retire his campaign debt-and only 90 people reply. Organizers are reduced to giving tickets away just to fill up the hall.

* Portland sci-fi author Robert Sheckley's novel Immortality Inc. goes into production as the film Freejack, starring Mick Jagger, Anthony Hopkins and Emilio Estevez.

* After a year of polyunsaturating the airwaves with Barry Manilow, KESI 970 AM trades in its weepy violins for an angry scowl and an electric guitar, becoming KBBT The Beat. As a plus, the DJ is a computer.

* Another arts group falls victim to the recession: Music Theatre Oregon goes out of business, leaving 5,000 Portlanders holding worthless season tickets.

* After nine months behind bars, transient Robert Bone, 33, is cleared of all charges in the murder of a homeless woman. Bone, a compulsive confabulator with a long history of mental illness, apparently told authorities he was involved in the killing so that he could be committed to a mental institution and get off the street.

* The Oregon Symphony begins handing out free cough drops to reduce disruptive bouts of hacking.

* Yes, shit happens, but nowhere with such historic significance as in Blue Lake, where a young swimmer who can't hold it any longer facilitates the first reported waterborne outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7. This particular strain of the nasty bacterium-commonly traced to undercooked beef-debuted in an ill-begotten hamburger at a White City McDonald's in 1982.

* Hundreds of residents scramble to save their homes after the collapse of Dominion Capital, a mortgage broker that owns 350 houses in North and Northeast Portland. At the prompting of neighborhood leaders, the city steps in and acquires the properties, many of which had been abandoned.


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