A state legislator from Milwaukie, Carolyn Tomei, has introduced a package of bills designed to address some of the problems associated with the Oregon Lottery.
Perhaps the most important of the three bills is HB 2167, which would cap the total amount of lottery revenue going to the state’s general fund. Under her proposal, all money above the cap would be diverted into a so-called “rainy day” fund, used only during times of fiscal crisis.
This would begin to address a central problem with the lottery, which is the mixed incentives it creates for legislators. On one hand, most of them pretend to be concerned about the growing problem of gambling addiction. Yet, when they use lottery money to pay for base funding of important state programs, they are incentivized to promote gambling.
When priorities collide, the lottery as cash cow always trumps concerns about gambling addiction.
The best solution would be to get state government out of the gambling business entirely; but since that’s not politically feasible, cutting off some of the revenue to the state’s general fund is a good first step. If the cap is set low enough, it potentially could force legislators to look elsewhere for base funding, or maybe even cut spending. Either option would be better than the status quo.
John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.