Lottery backs away from curbs on Portland mall

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PORTLAND (AP) — Oregon’s state lottery has backed off a plan to curb the “lottery row” at a Portland strip mall along the Columbia River, where a group of restaurants has turned into a dozen gambling-focused establishments dealing in cigarettes, alcohol and lottery games.

Neighbors say they’re trying to find other ways to combat the drug use, drunken driving and fighting that has accompanied the metamorphosis, The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/NuR0tn) reported.

Oregon law forbids businesses with lottery games to earn more than 50 percent of revenue from them.

To meet that, the delis on Hayden Island’s Jantzen Beach sell cheap alcohol and wholesale cigarettes, an attraction drawing people across the river from Washington state, where video lottery terminals are illegal except for tribal casinos. Food is offered but takes a back seat.

More than a year ago, Gov. John Kitzhaber and Lottery Director Larry Niswender promised residents to address the issue.

In November, Niswender limiting the number of machines in strip malls — no more than half the establishments at such malls could host state video lottery terminals.

By June, the lottery commission had balked, saying the rule would stymie business and that the lottery can’t be held solely accountable for the problem.

Attorney Michael Mohr, whose firm represents several of the retailers, said the lottery would face “significant legal ramifications.”

“Who goes and who stays? Will it be based on seniority, most investment, highest income to lottery? Having once granted the right to a location, any ‘cut’ will certainly be subject to legal challenges,” he said.

Niswender said he will file a new proposal in August, but that means another round of public hearings for a solution that wouldn’t go into effect until 2015.

“I was blindsided,” said Ron Schmidt, chairman of the Hayden Island Neighborhood Network.

“We’ve got to have immediate relief,” he said. “We don’t want to see what happens to crime in the next three years. We want our neighborhood back today.”

Niswender said lottery row “just happened.”

Five years ago, restaurants sold steaks and seafood at the mall called Harbor Island Shops. In 2008, a company that operates a Dotty’s Deli took over the restaurants and opened two other storefronts. All began offering video poker.

Other owners carved up restaurants into smaller delis specializing in lottery games.

By 2011, the strip had about 70 machines. Video lottery sales were $10 million in 2011.

Mike Leloff, the local precinct commander, said crime on the island as a whole is down, but he added an officer to patrol the lottery row. Five years ago, he said, his officers responded to 476 calls there. Last year the number was 628.

State Rep. Tina Kotek, whose district includes Hayden Island, said she wants to re-examine the “50 percent rule.”

“There is no pretense that these places are restaurants,” Kotek said. “...If there were more people eating in those restaurants, and lottery was a secondary reason to be there, there wouldn’t be these problems.”

Frustrated residents at a July meeting talked about foot patrols and sit-ins. Schmidt said the residents want “legal or legislative relief.”

“We are going house to house,” Schmidt said. “We are going to try to get the signatures of all 2,000-plus residents of this island.”

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