December 11, 2001 11:00 pm

The Oregon Legislature is looking at expanding the Oregon Lottery to include video slot machines in its lineup of games to help meet an expected state funding shortfall. Lawmakers should put the brakes on expanding the lottery.

The State of Oregon has become enormously addicted to gambling as a source of easy revenue. Since the lottery began in 1985, state-sponsored gaming has been expanded beyond the original numbers games to include Keno and the enormously lucrative video poker machines. About 9,000 poker terminals are found in 1,850 bars and taverns throughout Oregon, producing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the state and retailers every biennium.

Legislators, needing to address an expected $710 million budget shortfall for 2001-03, can almost taste the additional money that would come their way if video slot machines go on line. Where does the state stop with this gambling euphoria? Will the state eventually want to put slot and poker machines in our university hallways, next to pop and candy machines, as a way bring in even more revenue?

According to projections, video line games (as slot machines are called) would only produce $30 million in the next year and a half, amounting to only 4.2 percent of the expected shortfall.

And at what expense to the public? How many individuals already have squandered their family savings or gone into heavy debt to continue gambling? How many Oregonians have become involved in embezzlement or other theft crimes in order to feed their gambling habit?

The state is the clear winner when it comes to lottery games. While gamblers can only hope to make money off the games and usually end up losing, the state can count on making money and lots of it. Only a handful of people have become millionaires by playing Megabucks or Powerball number games through the years, while others have lost thousands, including their homes and families, chasing an elusive dream.

Gov. John Kitzhaber knows the Oregon Lottery already is exacting a large toll on gamblers bank accounts. He doesnt want the state to become even more addicted to the lottery than it already is. Kitzhaber does not support expanding the lottery to include video slots. Our legislators, too, should resist the temptation to add line games as a quick and easy way of raising revenue to help balance the states budget.

Expand or shrink?

What do Observer readers think about the Oregon Lottery expanding its gambling offerings to bring in even more dollars to the states coffers?

Sit down, write out your thoughts and send your letter of 300 words or less to The Observer, P.O. Box 3170, La Grande. You can also fax or e-mail your letters to the number and Web address listed above under your response.