Lottery Commission Strategic Plan Says Sports Betting In Oregon Could Be A Reality By 2020

The Oregon Lottery Commission’s long-term strategic plan indicates that the state was not only looking to implement a new virtual sports betting product in the near future but also that regulators have real sports betting lined up for a tentative 2020 rollout as well.

Though a few of these details have just been released, but the plan itself has been around for some time now, going back to well before the May 14, 2018, decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (also known as PASPA). While it is true that Oregon, along with Nevada (of course), Delaware and Montana were grandfathered in by PASPA and allowed to continue offering regulating sports betting markets within their jurisdictions, it is also true that those states were pretty much locked in to what sports wagering activities they had already approved at the time PASPA went into effect. That means Nevada, which had long ago legalized all forms of sports betting, could basically do whatever it wanted, while the other three states only had a paltry smattering of legal ways for their residents and visitors to legally bet on sports.

Sports betting in Oregon took the form of a state lottery product called Sports Action, which focused exclusive on NFL contests and players, and it remained popular throughout its run from 1989 to 2007, though it was allowed to lapse and was not replaced. That said, Oregon’s lawmakers – and the Oregon Lottery Commission – did have comparatively broad powers in terms of what kinds of sports betting activities they wanted to allow, so long as they fall under the aegis of lotto-type games, random number generators, video lotteries (don’t call them slots!) and so on.

It should therefore not come as much of a surprise that the Oregon Lottery would be looking at rolling out a new product related to sports, even if that product – which has been described in local media as a “virtual football wagering game” – doesn’t feature real athletes, teams or games. What is a little bit more surprising, considering Oregon’s historical aversion to exercising the powers that it did actually have by being one of four states that didn’t have its rights unconstitutionally stripped from it by PASPA, is that the Beaver State is considering bringing back sports betting within the next few years.

“We have been interested and have been talking for some time now about reintroducing some level of sports-based play into our portfolio," Matt Shelby, the Oregon Lottery’s public information manager told local media representatives within hours of the Supreme Court’s May 14 decision to overturn PASPA.

Still, for all the apparent excitement that seems to be a-brewing, Shelby said that nobody at his office has gone all in as to the exact form of the new (and presumably conventional, real-world, single game) sports betting offering will be like. Shelby told reporters that the main directive is to “expand its portfolio” and “increase revenue.” Still, the Oregon Lottery, for all its vested authority to come out with any number of new wagering products, is going to need to work with other stakeholders on this project – the point being that the lotto is not going to be rushing into anything, no matter what legal rights Oregon has regarding sports betting.

“We've got some history there with a lottery offering, but just exactly what a new offering could look like is too early to say at this point,” Shelby said. “But [the Oregon Lottery is] very interested.

“Just because you can do something on paper doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. We have to work with the sports leagues, the NCAA, the governor’s office and everyone else to make sure we’re not getting ‘out over our skies.’”

Taking heed of the NCAA’s desires is nothing new for Oregon, which basically put the kibosh on the Sports Action lotto in 2007 in an effort to curry favor with the organizing body of college athletics for the purpose of trying to attract some NCAA championships. Things didn’t work out exactly as planned, but that didn’t stop Oregon from trying for the last 10 years or more to drum up more money coming in for the state’s university system, which struggles to meet its Title IX obligations without a sizeable injection of cash which, ironically, comes from the state lotto. Now that sports betting is by default legal for whatever state wants it and pretty much however it wants to do it, we will see if Oregon can take the ball and run with it by the time the state lottery’s arbitrary 2020 deadline rolls around or if they can pull it off before then.

A lot is riding on how the NCAA as an organization feels about the Supreme Court’s call to overturn PASPA, which was pretty much college athletics’ biggest protection against expansion of sports betting beyond Nevada in any meaningful sense. Oregon Lottery Commission member Chris Telfer, himself a former state legislator, indicated to reporters back home that everyone in a position to influence the future direction of the Beaver State’s stance on sports betting will be treading very carefully from here out. That is going to be of paramount importance so as not to upset what could prove to be a delicate balance between the leagues, the lotto, the government, the public and what could be the state’s future sportsbook operators.

“This gives us a green light from an optics standpoint,” Telfer said in an interview after the PASPA decision was released. “We’ve been directed to increase the size of the pie. This is a new market, and anything we do moving forward is to broaden the base of who is playing.”

Telfer said he and the other members of the Lottery Commission have already gone the rounds in discussing some limitations on what kinds of action on sports the state will be interested in taking, and collegiate athletics could definitively be among those prohibitions. That stands in stark contrast to states like Mississippi, which quite rightly recognizes where its bread is buttered come fall. Telfer also said that betting on the outcome of games might be off the table as well, leaving props or possibly over/unders as the way forward, but nothing is set in stone at this time.

Also up in the air is the delivery method for a fully fledged Oregon sportsbook run by the state lotto. Bets could, in theory, be placed a physical lottery retailers only, or Oregon could live up to its progressive reputation and stake a big claim in the booming mobile sports betting and online sportsbook marketplace by authorizing either or both of those options for players. Another consideration will be to see if the Oregon Lottery would remain the sole source for action on sports or if the state would allow tribal casino operators to open sportsbooks of their own as a way to increase foot traffic at the reservations’ resort casinos.

The Siletz Tribe, for one, is keenly interested in seeing what the Oregon Lottery Commission and the state’s lawmakers will decide on that front, as the prospect of a sportsbook could mean a substantial influx of new interest in the tribe’s casino properties. Additionally, tribal casinos in Oregon have pretty much maintained the right to offer any kind of game or wagering activities that the lottery can, which gives both parties plenty of wiggle room (and room to grow, if they can work together closely) in this new post-PASPA world.

“[The Tribal Council members] are very interested obviously,” Craig Dorsay, the attorney retained by the Siletz Tribe, told local news media reps when pressed on the tribe’s stance. “If the lottery wants to take that expansive definition, we’d love it.”

However, it’s not all roses with regard to sports betting in Oregon, as critics of the Beaver State delving into what could become an intensely competitive sports wagering industry with nearby states like California and Washington are becoming increasingly worried, particularly about the easy access with which problem gamblers could have soon.

"If Oregon goes down this can have a profound impact on our state's culture and health,” said one of those vocal critics of sports betting, that being Problem Gambling Solutions’ president, Jeff Marotta. “I am hopeful before [sports betting is widely legalized] there will be a public debate, and as a democratic society we will choose which course to take with our eyes wide open and fully informed."

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