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Editor's Notes: Lottery winners, losers

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Robin Doussard
Monday, March 29, 2010
I’ve never bought a single lottery ticket in my life. Not even a single scratch-off. But if women who live in Lake Oswego (I am, I do) keep winning the $1 million raffle, I might have to rethink my investment strategy.

The latest winner could have been me. Sandy Hendricks last week was the second woman from Lake Oswego in three years to win the million-dollar Oregon Lottery Raffle. Hendricks, who won the St. Patrick’s Day Raffle, told reporters she is in her early 50s (I am) and has Irish grandparents (I do). "You know, I've never played a raffle before," Hendricks told the Oregonian (ditto). "I bought a ticket because I like leprechauns, I guess."

Well, I don’t like leprechauns (frankly, they creep me out). I don’t believe in luck, or at least I don’t believe that I’m lucky, so I’ve never seen the purpose in buying games of chance.

But looking at how my current investment strategy is working, maybe I should reconsider. Maybe I should embrace tiny little men in green coats (eek, my neck hairs are standing on end). It would take a long time with my conservative strategy and modest pot of gold to make a million bucks. Like about a hundred years. Maybe I should join the millions of other gamblers and roll the dice, court Lady Luck, see if I can beat the house. Maybe I should spin the wheel and buy a ticket for the July 4 Raffle drawing.

I can see how people want to believe in luck (especially those of us in Lake Oswego), and for about two seconds I considered buying that first ticket. Like a lot of people in a frightening economy, dreams of how I would use the money are quick to pop up: pay off the bills, help my unemployed sister, donate a little more to charity, maybe even invest a little more.

But then I think about how Oregon is addicted to lottery funds as a way to pay for a long list of services such as parks and education and that despite the growing gambling addiction of Oregonians, and the impact that has on families, individuals and society, the state continues to launch new games and add locations (including Portland International Airport) to lure more players because it needs more money. “We’re just a junkie, a big lottery junkie,” Rep. Mitch Greenlick said in a story on the lottery Oregon Business wrote in 2008.

The state’s not the only gambling junkie. Between 1995 and 2008, almost 17,000 Oregonians enrolled in problem gambling treatment programs, and thousands of their family members enrolled in family treatment programs. Oregon has done no studies on the social costs of gambling, yet starting in April, the state will cut treatment programs for the gambling addicts it helps to create. (Example: The 250,000 tickets for the St. Pat’s raffle were sold out in 10 days.) Those programs are funded by a portion of the lottery profits and those profits have dropped about 20% since 2008, with the recession taking its toll. At least 265 people will be turned away from treatment because of the latest cuts, according to a review by the Oregonian of state budget records. This is not the first time that the reserves set aside for treatment programs has been raided since the lottery was created in 1985.

So with all due respect to my winning neighbors, I think I’ll take my chances with the whims of the stock market, the fate of Social Security, and my fluctuating ability to save money. As unreliable as they are, they seem a better bet than kissing a leprechaun or supporting a state revenue program that addicts its customers and then kicks them to the curb when they need help. It also helps to remember that you never beat the house.

Robin Doussard is the editor of Oregon Business.
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