Oregon Lottery director retiring next month

Oregon Lottery director retiring next month

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Lottery Director Larry Niswender is retiring Nov. 30, ending an eight-year run that included lucrative sales and questions about whether the agency is doing enough to help gambling addicts.

Niswender announced his decision Monday in a memo to staff. In the memo, and in a telephone interview, he said he's happy with what the agency accomplished during his tenure and will work to ensure a smooth transition. Some of the achievements included clean audits, upgraded terminals and the acquisition of "state-of-the-art" games.

"We've successfully addressed (lottery) commission and legislative priorities, and solved some complex problems," he said.

Niswender, whose annual salary is $170,544, joined the agency as deputy director in 2005. He was appointed interim director in 2010 and got the permanent job a year later.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has a replacement in mind and plans to announce the candidate shortly, spokesman Tim Raphael said. The state Senate must confirm the choice.

The lottery topped $1 billion in sales in each of Niswender's eight years. Though the lottery has been profitable, Niswender's three years as director included controversy.

In 2011, he survived an accusation that he sexually harassed and retaliated against a female manager. Also that year, three lottery officials resigned because of a plan to launch a website designed to draw younger players.

More recently, the lottery has been criticized for a decision to no longer pay for ads to help problem gamblers.

The action was taken after a state Justice Department opinion — requested by Niswender — that said the job of lottery officials is to run a lottery, with the proceeds going toward economic development, public education and protecting the environment. Using money to reach out to addicts is not part of that mission, the department said.

Experts estimate that 81,000 Oregonians have a gambling problem, and video lottery terminals are the leading source of the addiction. The machines are found in many bars, providing a convenient way to quickly lose a lot of money.

The Oregonian reported Monday that Niswender's departure comes as it is preparing a series of articles about the lottery and problem gambling.

Niswender said the newspaper's reporting did not prompt his decision, and he was not pressured to quit by state officials. Though he's retiring, the 58-year-old Niswender said he's "not closing the door on pursuing other professional challenges."

Raphael said Kitzhaber did not seek Niswender's retirement. The governor, Raphael added, believes the lottery's job is to raise revenue while operating within the public interest.

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