Murmurs: Oregon State Police Scope Out Bulgaria

In other news: Lawmakers eye online sports betting for pension funding.

Oregon State Police (Janusz Sobolewski)

Lawmakers Eye Online Sports Betting for Pension Funding: This week, Oregon lawmakers continued to seek ways to address the state's $27 billion unfunded public pension liability. The largest component of Senate Bill 1049, introduced May 10, is an accounting gimmick that would reduce current payments by extending the payment period over which the debt could be amortized. On May 21, however, lawmakers proposed a new source of cash: sports betting. The Oregon Lottery is moving rapidly toward allowing customers to bet on sports using mobile devices. Dedicating lottery dollars to pensions would be a departure; the money now goes to schools, economic development and parks. The effort was complicated last week when state Sen. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro) introduced legislation that would block such wagering. Riley's bill is sitting on the desk of Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem), while Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) push to include sports gambling in their pension bill.

Oregon State Police Scope Out Bulgaria: As the Oregon Lottery pushes to expand into sports, the agency requested proposals this year from prospective vendors of mobile sports gambling platforms. It got three responses. The best bid came from SBTech, a company registered in Malta but located in Bulgaria. That decision led to a protest from another bidder, Scientific Games, a longtime lottery contractor. The lottery then sent a team of Oregon State Police detectives to Bulgaria last month to check out SB Tech's operations. (The officers wore plain clothes—no Smokey Bear-style hats.) A May 1 letter from the lottery's security detail, which WW obtained via a public records request, says SBTech passed the background check—a check Scientific Games' attorney argued should have been done before the lottery made its choice. A lottery spokesman disagrees, noting the agency began checking all three bidders as soon as the process began. "The major reason lottery selected SBTech was because they are a sports bet vendor, not a lottery vendor," says lottery spokesman Matt Shelby, "and their expertise shows."

National Report Spotlights Arbitration Clauses: Many Oregon workers can't take their employers to court over labor disputes—and the state agencies that can are overwhelmed. That's the conclusion of a national report by the Center for Popular Democracy and the Economic Policy Institute. It highlights a bill moving through the Oregon Legislature that would allow whistleblowers and victims of workplace abuses to recover civil penalties through lawsuits. Currently, the Department of Justice and Bureau of Labor and Industries may penalize employers who break the law, but those agencies have limited staff and resources to enforce labor rules. "If Oregon's BOLI had kept up with the state's growing workforce, it would have 211 full-time employees today," the report says. "Instead, Oregon's BOLI staffing level is 50 percent of what would have been needed just to keep up with the state's growing workforce since 1995."

Raising Smoking Age Saves Butts: Legislation passed in 2017 to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21 in Oregon appears to be discouraging young people from smoking. Senate Bill 754 went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. In the past year, data from the Oregon Health Authority show, Oregonians aged 13 to 17 who started smoking fell from 34 to 25 percent, and first-time smokers aged 18 to 20 decreased from 23 to 18 percent.

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