September 27, 2001 11:00 pm

The state seems happy enough to collect $300 million or more in profits each year from the Oregon Lottery. This revenue source takes the pressure off legislators from having to reach into taxpayers pockets to provide the extra money needed for such things as education or salmon habitat restoration.

The state is addicted to the lottery as a source of easy money. At the same time officials have recognized that thousands of gamblers, too, are hooked on the games and are having problems with their addiction.

The Oregon Lottery has announced a new telephone counseling program to provide help for problem gamblers. Many of these people know they have a problem. They are watching more of the familys income going for Oregon Lottery games or into Indian casinos or to far-off places like Winnemucca, Reno or Las Vegas, Nev. Theyd like to slow down or stop their gambling, but find it impossible to do.

Approximately 30,000 adult Oregonians are believed to have a gambling disorder, although only about 700 of them are in treatment for their problem.

The state already has 26 publicly funded gambling treatment centers in Oregon. The nearest one to Union and Wallowa counties is in Pendleton, offered through the Umatilla County Mental Health Department. Gamblers can contact the center at 800-452-5413. The center offers gambling addiction group meetings at 5 p.m. Tuesdays in the basement at the Center for Human Development in La Grande. Its wonderful to have such programs in place, but apparently few problem gamblers are taking advantage of them.

The state is hoping that thousands more people faced with gambling problems will seek treatment through the telephone counseling program. Gamblers who call 877-870-0177, a toll-free number, to enroll, are provided counseling during a minimum of four scheduled telephone sessions over a six-week period.

It would be wonderful if people who know they are throwing away too much of their money on video poker and other games of chance could quit cold-turkey. But gambling is powerfully addictive. The telephone counseling service offers the promise that more people will seek out the help they need.

Getting the state to curb its addiction to the quick-and-easy money coming from the Oregon Lottery will not be as easy.

How do you feel?

What is your feeling about state-sponsored gambling? Has the Oregon Lottery grown too much since it was approved by voters in 1984? Is the state doing enough to help problem gamblers overcome their addictions? Should the Oregon Lottery be changed in some way or be scrapped?

What is your opinion? Share your thoughts in a letter to the editor in The Observer. Our state policy-makers are interested.