- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Defying a long-standing reluctance to target ethnic minorities, the Oregon Lottery rolled out a Latino-themed bingo game last year and is now selling Chinese New Year-themed Scratch-It tickets.

Oregon Lottery officials say they shied away from such marketing after a 2012 report found that ethnic minorities are at a greater risk of becoming problem gamblers, The Oregonian reported (http://bit.ly/1LrGYIu).

“We could we be criticized by people who think, ‘You are preying on these poor people,’” said Jack Roberts, director of the Oregon Lottery.

Officials say they began changing their minds on the issue after getting feedback from members of the minority groups.

Roberts said he met last summer with Bernie Foster, the publisher of a weekly newspaper focused on African American life in Portland. Foster asked why the Oregon Lottery was willing to take money from black people but wouldn’t buy advertisements in publications that covered their communities, recalled Roberts.

He decided that it wasn’t fair.

“If we want their sale, we have to ask for their sale, and we have to come to their community to do that that,” Roberts said.

Around the same time, Oregon Lottery senior manager Art Kittu met with a group of Korean grocers who wanted to see tickets that held specific appeal for their customers. Special lottery tickets often attract an influx of customers.

“That’s really the magic of lottery,” said Kittu. “It generates a lot of extra foot traffic.”

The Oregon Lottery debuts about 50 new games each year, and each requires about eight months of planning. Last year, one of those games was the Loteria, a Bingo-style game that has earned popularity in Latino populations in Florida, Maryland and other states. Officials released 840,000 $2 Loteria tickets on Cinco De Mayo and created new Spanish-speaking advertisements and hotlines for problem gamblers.

The idea for Chinese New Year tickets came last January, when Oregon Lottery Commission chair Elisa Dozono visited California and purchased a few red-and-gold lottery tickets celebrating the Year of the Ram. Back in Oregon, she asked Kittu and other officials if the state could do something similar.

So in December, the Oregon Lottery printed two million “Year of the Monkey” tickets. They’re red and gold, like the ones Dozono saw in California. And the top prize is $888, because eight is a lucky number in some Asian cultures.

So far it’s the second-highest selling $1 game, behind Jackpot.

Officials won’t know until later this year whether the new tickets led to an increased number of Latino and Asian players.

___

Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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