With a Surprise Amendment, A State Senator Attempts to Block Oregon Lottery’s Entrance into Internet and Mobile Gambling

Wearing a Blazers jersey on a casual committee day, Chuck Riley dropped a bombshell into Lottery plans.

It was an unusual day in the Senate Committee on Business and General Government this morning—and a state senator took an unusual approach to heading off a major new Oregon Lottery initiative.

Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro) wore a black Blazers game jersey underneath his sports jacket. (Riley is a regular at Blazers' games and the team faces an elimination game tonight versus the Denver Nuggets at the Moda Center.)

Adding to the casual atmosphere: the absence both of the five-person committee's Republican members, Sens. Alan Olsen (R-Canby) and Fred Girod (R-Stayton), who with the rest of the Senate GOP caucus are enjoying the equivalent of senior skip week, as they attempt to prevent the full Senate from voting on House Bill 3427, the $2 billion education funding package the House passed.

Among the bills the committee considered: House Bill 3389, which would allow the winners of large multi-state lottery games such as Megamillions and Powerball to accept their winnings anonymously or have them paid into a trust that would not identify them.

The House passed the bill 55 to 2 in late April and passage in the Senate seemed likely—but Riley had other ideas. After the bill got to the Senate, he added an amendment that didn't address the issue of anonymity but rather proposed to block the Oregon Lottery's proposed expansion into online and mobile gambling.

As WW first reported, the Oregon Lottery, the state's second biggest source of revenue after personal income taxes, is under pressure to increase its take in the face of growing demands for state services. At the same time, the agency faces a demographic challenge: Younger Oregonians don't gamble as much as older Oregonians, and when they do spend money, they want to spend it on the internet and ideally through their phones.

"It's evolve or die," Oregon Lottery spokesman Matt Shelby told WW last year.

Portland lawyer Darian Stanford, who wrote HB 3389, says he learned of Riley's amendment earlier this week and thought he'd addressed the senator's concerns. But this morning, Riley introduced the amendment and his colleagues unanimously adopted the amendment and voted to send the bill to the Senate floor.

"I was surprised," Stanford tells WW.

He is hoping to convince Senate leadership to send the bill to another committee for further consideration, rather than calling for a vote on the Senate floor.

Although anti-gambling advocates spoke at this morning's hearing and Riley says he is personally uncomfortable with the state's reliance on gambling, he says his opposition to the state getting into internet and mobile gambling is more technical than philosophical.

Riley says he introduced the amendment for two reasons: First, he's concerned that the Oregon Lottery hasn't figured out how to prevent underaged gamblers from accessing lottery games online or on their parents' phones.

"I told them, 'If you can find a way to make safe, I would be okay,'" Riley says. "I don't believe their safeguards are fool-proof."

Second, Riley says that Oregon Lottery officials told him the agency could move forward with online and mobile games without the Legislature's approval. Riley didn't like that assertion.

"They said 'we don't need your authorization,'" Riley says. "I'm big on legislative oversight of the executive branch."

An Oregon Lottery spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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